Friday, March 06, 2015

The Cost of Compromise

Martin Luther wasn’t prone to compromise. He famously said in his sermon “Knowledge of God’s Will and Its Fruit”:
The world at the present time is sagaciously discussing how to quell the controversy and strife over doctrine and faith, and how to effect a compromise between the Church and the Papacy. Let the learned, the wise, it is said, bishops, emperor and princes, arbitrate. Each side can easily yield something, and it is better to concede some things which can be construed according to individual interpretation, than that so much persecution, bloodshed, war, and terrible, endless dissension and destruction be permitted.

Here is lack of understanding, for understanding proves by the Word that such patchwork is not according to God’s will, but that doctrine, faith and worship must be preserved pure and unadulterated; there must be no mingling with human nonsense, human opinions or wisdom.

The Scriptures give us this rule: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
It is interesting to speculate what the church would be like today if Luther had compromised. The pressure was heavy on him to tone down his teaching, soften his message, and stop poking his finger in the eye of the papacy. Even many of his friends and supporters urged Luther to come to terms with Rome for the sake of harmony in the church. Luther himself prayed earnestly that the effect of his teaching would not be divisive. Keep reading
"The appearance of unity, no matter how enticing, is not worth sacrificing the clarity of the gospel." Yet in the Anglican Church in North America one hears the unceasing mantra "Unity whatever cost! We must show a united face to the world!" The result is a Church that does not entirely teach what the Scriptures teach or uphold what the Anglican formularies uphold--a Church in which a raft of doctrines and practices rooted in the traditions of men, not the Word of God, are obscuring the clear message of the gospel. 

The Local Church: Love It or Leave It?

There is a trend, especially among younger generations, of people who are saying goodbye to the local church. We’ve heard statistics of those who leave because they no longer believe. But, surprisingly, others leave because they say they want more of God in their lives and the church just isn’t doing it for them. Keep reading

5 Gifts You Can Give Your Pastor

In this post, I want to share some gifts you can give your pastor.

How’s that for a self-serving post?

Those from the church where I serve as pastor should read this post knowing I minister to hundreds of pastors every month. In my latest blog survey, over 50% of my readers are in vocational ministry. But, even more important, only about 10% of my readers actually know me personally. So, this is not a personal plea. It’s written for the hopeful benefit of others. Thanks for being the kind of church that — for the most part — protects the pastor.

Most churches love to bless their pastor. I get asked frequently how the church can help me. But, that don’t know how.

To be a pastor of a local church is a privilege and a high honor. But, it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Religious students more 'moral' than atheists or agnostics – study

Students who profess a religious faith are more "moral" than those who are atheist or have no religion, according to new research.

The study, published by Birmingham's University's Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, found that religion is correlated with character building.

The study of 10,200 students and 250 teachers from 68 UK schools took place between February 2013 and June 2014 and is the largest of its kind. Researchers used surveys, moral dilemma tests and interviews. Keep reading
The words and phrases in this article, which are underlined twice, are links to ads.
Photo credit: Pixaby, public domain 

A murderer and rapist's views reflect those of many in India

When a condemned killer said the woman he and others brutally gang-raped on a New Delhi bus was responsible for what had happened to her, his comments were shocking in their callousness and lack of remorse. But the underlying view has wide acceptance in India.

Blaming women for rape is what hundreds of millions of men here are taught to believe. Keep reading

Islamic State bulldoze ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud

Islamic State militants have looted and bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq, it has been confirmed.

"ISIS continues to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity. They violated the ancient city of Nimrud and bulldozed its ancient ruins," Iraq's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said in a statement. Keep reading

Also see
ISIS Fed Remains of Chopped Up Kurdish Prisoner to His Mother When She Arrived to Demand His Release
The report of the looting and destruction of Nimrud have been confirmed; the allegations of Islamic militants feeding the flesh of her murdered son to a Kurdish woman have not.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Does It Bother You....?

By Robin G. Jordan

On Tuesday I posted an article on why denying justification is a serious error. Historically two movements within the Anglican Church have denied justification. The first movement is the Anglo-Catholic movement; the second movement is the liberal movement. Both movements do not fully accept the authority of the Bible, much less that of the historic Anglican formularies. The latter include two Books of Homilies as well as the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571, The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, and its Ordinal.

The Anglo-Catholic movement is strongly represented in the Anglican Church in North America and the other North American Continuing Anglican jurisdictions; the liberal movement in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the USA. North America has no ecclesiastical entity that identifies itself as Anglican, which fully accepts the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies, and which upholds the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Individual clergy and congregations in all of the aforementioned self-identified Anglican Churches may do so but not these bodies as a whole.

If the premise of the article is correct—and conservative Protestants, evangelical Anglicans, and Anglican evangelicals would maintain that it is, all these Anglican Churches are in serious error. It is a troubling thought. 

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

What You Probably Don’t Know about ‘The Least of These’

A more biblically accurate understanding of Jesus' words in Matthew 25.

Most Christians agree that caring for the poor and marginalized is a central tenet of the gospel. And what better passage to reinforce this principle than Matthew 25:40, where Jesus commands us to care for “the least of these.” Many of us readily assume that “the least of these” refers to the poor and marginalized. But are those who Jesus is really talking about?

That question might seem trivial, but its importance can hardly be overstated. After all, Jesus ties our eternal destiny to how we treat “the least of these brothers of mine.” In the broader context of the passage (Matt. 25:31–46), the sheep and goats represent salvation criteria—who is in and who is out. It’s a stark picture, with the only outcomes being salvation or damnation. In a breathtaking scene, the Son of Man sits on a heavenly throne surrounded by angels and renders his verdict: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (v. 46). One’s eternal security is tied to caring for “the least of these,” whoever they are. Keep reading
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Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

10 Reasons Preaching Is Scary

Anybody who knows me probably knows I love to preach. I so clearly knew God’s calling many years ago that only disobedience would allow me to ignore preaching today.

To be candid, though, preaching scares me. Here’s why.... Keep reading

3 Places the Word Must Be Central in Your Church

There is one spiritual discipline that increases engagement in every other spiritual discipline. In the research behind Transformational Discipleship, we discovered that when someone is engaged in studying the Bible, participation in every other spiritual discipline is positively impacted.

While the other spiritual disciplines are important, engagement in one of these (from a research vantage point) does not necessarily increase engagement in the others. But reading the Bible is different. People who read, hear, and study the Scripture simultaneously increase their participation in every other discipline. Their generosity increases. Their serving increases. Their boldness in sharing the gospel increases. Their confession and repentance increases.

The thing that impacts every other aspect in the life of a believer is quite simply regular and ongoing engagement with the Word of God. He sanctifies His people through His truth, and His Word is truth (John 17:17). Thus, a church that is serious about making disciples is serious about the Word of Christ dwelling in the people (Colossians 3:16). The Word must be central in these three places.... Keep reading

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Become a Gospel Shaped Church

You can probably name a church in your community with a reputation for courageous defense of biblical truth. The preaching is strong, and discipleship involves a lot of good books from dead theologians. Another church you know is beloved for its compassion. Its food pantry is always stocked, and no one walks away empty-handed. Yet another church is all about fulfilling the Great Commission. They have the latest technology, the most energetic worship services, the most creative outreach strategies.

But where are the churches that are courageous, compassionate, and commissioned, all at the same time and among the same people? Where are the gospel-shaped churches that teach the Bible, love the poor, and reach the lost? If God’s Word is our timeless guide, then churches seeking after Jesus ought to share this core DNA even if they don’t agree on every theological detail, even if they’re located on opposite sides of the world. Keep reading

Three Christian Misconceptions about Muslims

When the average Westerner hears “Muslim,” a number of images come to mind—mostly negative. But most Muslims would be just as horrified as we are at the assumptions entertained about them. Here are some of the most common misconceptions that Westerners have about Muslims.... Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

5 Examples of Leading Outside the Norm

Leadership is so much different today than when I first started leading over 30 years ago. To lead today we must learn to think outside the once considered normal lines of leadership. Keep reading

Seven Things to Consider If Your Spouse Is Not Supportive of Your Ministry

In the past few months, I’ve had two conversations where persons serving on a church staff were struggling with their spouses’ lack of support. One was a pastor whose wife was worn out with a constant stream of criticisms directed at her husband and her family. She was pushing her husband to leave the church and find secular employment.

The other situation involved a children’s minister whose husband was angry because she was gone so many nights. He felt the church was taking advantage of her and pushing her to work too many hours to the neglect of her family.

Both of these ministers were truly struggling. They did not know what steps to take. They were uncertain how to respond to their spouses.

Unfortunately, these situations are not unique. They are too common, and they often do not end well. More than one couple has divorced over this issue.

So what is a pastor or staff person to do in such difficult situations? While I don’t pretend to have specific solutions for every case, I would like to suggest seven things to consider for those who find themselves in struggling marriages because of this issue. Keep reading

Preaching Better – Let Process Flow From Content

Most preachers are process junkies.

We obsess over sermon length and structure, whether-or-not to use PowerPoint, if we should preach in a series, etc.

Most of the discussions I have about preaching center on these issues. And that’s fine. These are the tools of of the trade, after all, and we want to use them well.

I’ve participated in these discussions. I’ve written about how to preach better and I’m currently working on a blog post on the process I use to prepare sermon series’.

But I’ve discovered a simple principle underneath all the process that we often forget.

Process should follow content, not the other way around.

I think there are two defining rules every communicator needs to follow:

1. Decide what you need to say

2. Say it in the best way possible

That’s it.

Everything else should follow after that. From sermon length, to series length, to use of illustrations, video clips, Q & A, etc.

Use the process that best communicates what needs to be said and let everything else go. Keep reading

Also see
My 6 Best Tools for Overcoming Preacher's Block

What Difference Does an Inerrant Bible Make?

Does it matter whether the Bible is errant or inerrant, fallible or infallible, inspired or uninspired? What’s all the fuss about the doctrine of inerrancy? Why do Christians debate this issue? What difference does an inerrant Bible make? Keep reading

Small Groups, Rebar, and Cultural Blindness

No one comes to a building in its early stages and marvels at the extensive nature of its rebar. Instead, we wait until the structure actually starts to go up; we don’t want to see what makes it stable—we want to see what makes it pretty.

Even though rebar isn’t pretty, it’s incredibly necessary. Rebar gives a building its stability and strength. It’s what holds everything together below the surface, making a structure resistant against the forces of time and nature.

Without rebar, a building crumbles. Keep reading

The Church & the Internet: Three Articles

7 Ridiculously Common Mistakes Churches Make On Social Media

Church leaders should be tuned in and aware that most of the world spends a good proportion of their day on social media. That includes first and second world economies. Social media should be a church leaders dream come true. There has been no other communications channel in history where your church is just one click away from being noticed by your broader community without you having to direct mail them or spend huge amounts of money on advertising.

Being one click away doesn’t mean that churches use social media well. In fact I see many churches make common mistakes. Here are just seven that I see regularly. Keep reading

The 3 Big Questions of this Social, Digital Age

I’ve decided to connect with a lot of people in a lot of different ways. I also read a lot of stuff, mostly online but also in print. And I try to write and share great content along the way. The problem is, each of these is never-ending. In other words, there will always be something else to read, someone else with whom to connect, and more to write. Especially now.

I’ve managed to boil my own approach to this new content-driven, socially-connected age down to three big questions. These three questions determine what I do the whole time I’m “working,” which rarely fits into an eight hour work schedule in the traditional sense. Keep reading

Take Back the Internet: How Good People Can Beat the Cynics and the Trolls

You ever read the comment section on a blog or on your favourite news site?

I’m not a ranter, but I have to tell you, sometimes I find the comments section of many sites discouraging…even depressing. It’s like the mean people took over the internet. I’d link to some that bother me, but then I’d just be taking us all down and I really don’t want to do that. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

What is Grace?

A number of decades ago at the Ligonier Valley Study Center, we sent out a Thanksgiving card with this simple statement: “The essence of theology is grace; the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.” In all the debates about our role versus God’s role in sanctification—our growth in holiness—we’d stay on the right track if we’d remember this grace-gratitude dynamic. The more we understand how kind God has been to us and the more we are overcome by His mercy, the more we are inclined to love Him and to serve Him.

Yet we can’t get the grace-gratitude dynamic right if we aren’t clear on what grace means. What is grace? The catechisms many of us learned as children give us the answer: “Grace is the unmerited favor of God.” The first thing that we understand about grace is what it’s not—it’s not something we merit. In fact, if that is all we ever understand about grace, I’m sure God will rejoice that we know His grace is unmerited. So, here’s our working definition of grace—it is unmerit.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans sheds light on what we mean when we say that grace is unmerit. In 1:18–3:20, the Apostle explains that on the final day, for the first time in our lives, we will be judged in total perfection, in total fairness, in absolute righteousness. Thus, every mouth will be stopped when we stand before the tribunal of God. This should provoke fear in the hearts of fallen people, as condemnation is the only possible sentence for sinful men and women: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).

But those who trust in Christ Jesus have hope, for if we are in Him by faith, we have been “justified freely by His grace.” Note that justification is accomplished not by obligation, but freely through grace on account of the redemption purchased by Jesus alone. There’s no room for boasting, for we are justified not by our works but by grace alone through faith alone. Paul goes on to cite Abraham as the preeminent example of one who was justified by faith alone and therefore free from God’s sentence of condemnation. If the basis for Abraham’s salvation, his justification, was something that Abraham did—some good deed, some meritorious service that he performed, some obligation that he performed—if it were on the basis of works, Paul says, he would have had something about which to boast. But Abraham had no such merit. All he had was faith, and that faith itself was a gift: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (4:3; see Eph. 2:8–10). Keep reading

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Why is Denying Justification such a Serious Error?

The doctrine of justification by faith alone on the ground of Christ’s imputed righteousness remains under direct attack in various quarters. As someone who wrote his PhD dissertation on the doctrines of justification in Richard Baxter and Benjamin Keach, I am convinced that modifying the biblical doctrine is a serious theological error. As a pastor of a local church, I have observed how the doctrine of justification humbles the proud, strengthens the fainthearted, gives assurance to the fearful, encourages vulnerable and motivates self-sacrificing love. To deny this doctrine is to deny the very heart and power of the gospel. May the Lord bring theological clarity on this doctrine for the sake of His own glory and for the good of His beloved bride. Keep reading
While the Anglican Church in North America's College of Bishops has not issued a statement  denying justification outright, it has endorsed a number of doctrinal statements that countenance beliefs and liturgical practices, which are cumulatively a denial of justification. It has not issued a statement affirming justification in no uncertain terms. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the fundamental declarations of the Anglican Church in North America equivocate in their acceptance of the authority of historic Anglicanism' confession of faith--the Articles of Religion of 1571. The ACNA's fundamental declarations contain no reference to the Book of Homilies, which is a major Anglican formulary. 
Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain 

The Changes You Need to Make As Your Church Grows—An Interview With Jenni Catron [Podcast]

How do you handle growth when it comes your way? What do you need to do with staff, structure and scale as your church grows?

From record industry executive, to executive leadership at Cross Point Church and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Jenni Catron has led a lot of change.

In this episode, Jenni shares what’s she’s learned through over a decade of leading change in growing churches. Keep reading

How to Memorize the Biblical Narrative (Part 2)

The Dead Sea
Let’s continue with our process of memorizing the events in Genesis.... Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain
I am posting this article series because I believe that the articles may be helpful to some people. I learned the Bible narrative through repeated reading of the Old and New Testament to a large extent in conjunction with the reading of the Daily Offices. When my mother and I began bringing my nieces to church with us, I purchased for them Arch Book Bible stories that recount the Biblical narrative "through fun-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations." These books are designed to capture the attention of children and to tell the Bible stories "in an enjoyable and memorable way." In reading the stories to my nieces and later to my grandnephew, I reinforced the Bible narrative in my own mind. Sometimes I would read through a story a couple of times and then tell it to them from memory. It is much easier to remember the Bible narrative if we are sharing it with others. 

5 Reasons Children’s Ministry Matters SO Much

For so many families in today’s world, life revolves around the kids. If you have kids, your calendar is probably full of events related to them. And it’s certainly not a bad thing that you love your kids and make them important. If you’re a parent, think through these questions:
  • What are the next 5 things on your personal to-do list?
  • Do you change your schedule/plans last minute when your children have something come up?
  • Do you plan your days, food, events, and outings around your kids?
  • Do you remember the last time you went to one of those “nice” restaurants?
  • Whom do you spend the most time thinking about? Praying over? Encouraging?
Parents will likely attend church where their kids want to go and, hopefully, where their kids get loved and discipled. As a Children’s Minister, I want your kids to be loved. I want the best for their future. I want the Gospel to invade the next generation of leaders. I want churches to reach kids, draw them in, and to equip parents to disciple their children well! I want them to love the time they spend at church so they are excited about showing up and learning about Jesus. So if you want to reach families, engage kids!

Though there are a TON more I could list, here are five reasons why children’s ministry at your church matters so much.... Keep reading

Why Your Church Needs a New Members Class – Rainer on Leadership #103 [Podcast]

A new members class is critical to informing prospective new members of information and expectations related to your church. In fact, I would suggest every church have a new members class. And today, we explain why its needed and how your church can benefit from it. Keep reading

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 23:47 — 21.8MB)

1 in 5 U.S. Teen Girls Physically or Sexually Abused While Dating

Many American teens -- both boys and girls -- fall prey to physical and sexual abuse while dating, a new survey finds.

Among teens who said they dated, one in five girls and one in 10 boys said they'd been abused at least once during the past year. Most teens who reported physical or sexual abuse experienced more than one incident of abuse, according to the study.

Victims -- some of whom could also be perpetrators -- were at higher risk of problems such as suicidal behavior, bullying, risky sexual behavior and substance use, the researchers found. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

War in E. Ukraine aids church planting in west

Thousands gathered on Kiev’s Independence Square to light candles and lay flowers during a memorial march and prayer service to remember those who gave their lives during a bloody revolution more than a year ago.

More than a year after the Euromaidan revolution on Kiev's Independence Square, thousands came to memorialize "The Heavenly Hundred" -- those who lost their lives during bloody protests in February 2014.

Much has changed in Ukraine during the past year. A new president is in office. War continues in the east between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian Army despite a recently negotiated cease-fire agreement.

But not all news coming out of Ukraine is bad, International Mission Board workers report. At the same time prayer services were being held for the fallen at the central square (also known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti), a new church was being birthed across town as 16 people gathered for worship in a former beauty salon.

Pastor Oleg, who leads the new congregation, is a church planter from the Luhansk region who has been forced to flee his home, and his church, due to the war. Keep reading

Photo credit: Marc Ira Hooks, Baptist Press

Monday, March 02, 2015

Three Reasons Why People Leave Your Church

As pastors, few things hurt more than seeing people show up to our churches, then leaving as quickly as they came. Some leave without reason. We had this problem at The Journey Church, where I pastor, for many years. We constantly had new faces at church. Folks enjoyed the worship gatherings and talked about how friendly people were, but after a short time they were gone.

As a church who desires to reach people and make a difference, seeing new people not stick hurt. Our backdoor was massive. Plugging the drain was a big issue.

As a staff, we were tired of the revolving door. We were working too hard to reach people only to lose them. So we worked to pinpoint the reasons we were were losing people. We discovered three dominant reasons. These three things are now on our radar. We constantly think about systems, communication, structure, and strategy for fixing these three issues. Here they are.... Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Phillip Jensen on Evangelical Anglicanism [Video]

Phillip Jensen of Two Ways Ministries, Australia, helps us understand what it is to be an Evangelical Anglican. Watch now

You Can’t Follow Fear: 5 Signs Fear’s Getting the Best of You As a Leader

Want to know what might be holding back your leadership?


Most leaders I talk to struggle with fear in one measure or another.

Fear can be so difficult to wrestle down until you realize how fatal fear is to leadership. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixaby, public domain

Bad Homiletical Models of Expository Preaching

Despite the many books on preaching, bad homiletical models of expository preaching still exist. They come from various sources and are influenced by a variety of factors. Often it is not the model itself that is at fault, but the use made of it. They include.... Keep reading

How to Memorize the Biblical Narrative (Part1)

Christ can only be truly and properly known through the revelation presented in the entirety of God’s Word. The British theologian Alister McGrath notes that Scripture is regarded as a channel through which God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ is encountered. Faith accepts Scripture as a testimony to Christ, and submits to Christ as the one of whom Scripture speaks.

Too often, though, our faith is based on testimony about the testimony. We may be able to affirm that Scripture is, from Genesis to Revelation, where God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ is encountered without truly having encountered that revelation directly. Even if we have read the Bible in its entirety we may only have a general sense of how any particular book, much less all of Scripture, reveals Christ.

An aid to developing this understanding is to delve into Biblical theology, the discipline of understanding how the person and work of Christ are the center of all of God’s works in redemption and the end to which all of the Scriptures point. But it helps to have a mental framework in which to hang the insights we can glean from that field.

One practical and immediate way to prepare for study of Biblical theology and to develop a deeper appreciation of Scripture, to thread it into the warp and woof of our imagination, is to embed as much of the Biblical narrative into our minds as possible. By having a detailed overview of the entire Biblical narrative available for recall, we can better see what Graeme Goldsworthy calls the binding theme of the whole Bible, the kingdom of God, which he defines as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.”

Narrative comprises the single most common form of writing in the Bible. These are the books that contain the main story line of the kingdom of God. Biblical narrative stories compose approximately forty percent of the Old Testament and a large part of the New Testament. The narrative based books would include: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah, Haggai, some of the Prophetic writings, the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), and Acts. Keep reading

Also see
4 Tips to Memorize (Almost) Anything

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4 Keys to Evangelism in Honor-Shame Cultures

Jackson Wu shares about how evangelism can happen in honor-shame cultures throughout the world.

I’ll never forget when an atheist, Chinese taxi driver shared the gospel with me. It was one of the best presentations I’ve heard.

He didn’t believe it, of course, but he had heard the message so many times that he could rattle it off like Billy Graham himself had trained him.

I had spent the past 15–20 minutes explaining the gospel in a way that made better sense in an “honor-shame” culture. Periodically, I would pause to see if he was really listening. Would he change the subject? To my surprise, he kept prodding me to say more. Although countless people had shared the gospel with him, he said no one had ever said anything like what he was now hearing. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Perfect harmony: how singing in a choir can make us more ‘moral’

Children who sing in a choir, play in an orchestra or take to the stage are more likely to make good moral choices than their fellow classmates, a study has concluded.

But contrary to belief that sport promotes ideas of fair play and team spirit, the research concluded that playing games does nothing to strengthen people’s moral fibre.

Meanwhile those who go to church or other religious observances regularly emerged more likely to fare better in the face of moral dilemmas than their peers who do not.

And those whose parents have a higher level of education, or who achieve good grades themselves, are also likely to demonstrate moral virtues such as honesty and self-discipline than others.

The project also found that eight in 10 teachers fear that moral development of children is being squeezed out of schools by the relentless pressure of exams. Keep reading 

Also see
All together now: singing is good for your body and soul
Singing Changes Your Brain
Singing and Psychological Well-being

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

How Islamic is Islamic State group? Not very, experts say

Three British schoolgirls believed to have gone to Syria to become "jihadi" brides. Three young men charged in New York with plotting to join the Islamic State group and carry out attacks on American soil. A masked, knife-wielding militant from London who is the face of terror in videos showing Western hostages beheaded.

They are among tens of thousands of Muslims eager to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group. An estimated 20,000 have streamed into the territory in Iraq and Syria where the group has proclaimed what it calls a "caliphate" ruled by its often brutal version of Islamic law.

But how rooted in Islam is the ideology embraced by this group that has inspired so many to fight and die? Keep reading

Also see
ISIS to Release 29 Assyrian Christian Hostages; May Have Killed 15 Others

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Evangelion 2015: Evangelical Identity in the Episcopal Church

What is the history of the Evangelical movement in the Episcopal Church?

Who were its leaders?

What does it mean to be an Evangelical Episcopalian today?

Where: St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Delmar NY
            16 Elsmere Avenue
            Delmar, NY 12054

When: April 24-26, 2015

Featured Speakers: Rev. Lee Gatiss, Rev. Philip Wainwright; Mr. Thomas Isham

Learn More

Three Critical Changes the Growing Church Must Make

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges leaders in growing churches face is the sense of failing to meet expectations, particularly of some who were in the church when the church was not as large as she currently is....

How do we make sense of the difference in perspective? A wise pastor once told me that for many people “in their minds, the church is always the size it was when they first joined.” In other words, in the minds of many people, the church should still function like the church did when they joined.

The reality is that a growing church must change some ways in which she functions. And if she doesn’t, her growth will be hampered.

A church should not change or evolve doctrinally, as a church should stand on the “faith delivered once for all to the saints.” Nor must a church change her ministry philosophy and mission in her local community. I am simply suggesting that as a church grows, if a church grows, how she functions in at least these three areas will need to change. Keep reading

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4 Ways Pastors Enable Dysfunction in their Churches

The role of pastors is clear in Scripture: “Equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” (Ephesians 4:12) But unfortunately, some pastors confuse equipping for enablement.

Primarily, this is caused by fear on the part of the pastor. Proverbs 29:25 warns us that “the fear of man is a snare." But often, that fear doesn’t look like fear. Sometimes it looks quite courageous. Sometimes it appears as though the pastor is working himself to death in service to the church, when in reality he is doing all the work because he fears a lack of control. Sometimes it appears the Word is proclaimed in an uncompromising way, when in reality the pastor is just trashing people not in the room to make those who are in the room feel as though they have no sin from which to repent. What follows are some ways I’ve seen pastors enable dysfunction in their churches. Keep reading

3 Ways Social Media Benefits Church Leaders

Social media is a helpful tool church leaders need to understand and use in their local churches.

Every time a new form of media emerges, there are early adopters and rejecters.

I wouldn’t throw my whole lot in with either camp. Some things are certainly fads, and it doesn’t make sense to invest much effort in them. Other things are solid, and we can resist them to our own insignificance.

Wisdom is knowing which is which. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

5 Awesome Ways to Quickly Improve Your Church’s Website

We need a new church website! I hear that battle cry often from churches who are frustrated with the current state of their website. I don’t blame them, building and maintaining a church website can be a difficult process.

However, there are some small steps that you can use on your website that won’t require a complete overhaul. Instead these small steps can give your visitors a better user experience and give your website some clear direction. These steps will also ensure that your visitors know what you want from them and it will increase the chance that your visitors will respond. Here they are.... Keep reading

30 Ideas for Easter Outreach

Churches shared out-of-the-box thinking for communicating the transformational message of the cross. Here are their ideas.... Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domian

Austrian reform singles out Muslims for harsh new requirements

The law requires imams to preach in German, closes mosques of fewer than 300 people, and bars foreign funding of Muslim organizations. The government says it will give Islam an 'Austrian character,' but many say it is anti-Islam.

The Austrian parliament Wednesday singled out Islam as a faith by passing a law that restricts its adherents' religious activities. The new “Law on Islam” bars outside funding of Islamic religious communities, forces small mosques to close within a year, and requires imams to preach in German.

Analysts say the law, which the parliament passed overwhelmingly, is an attempt to “Austrianize” Islam and bring more official oversight of the faith at a time when fears of radicalization are rife in Europe.

The law lays down regulation that aren't required of faiths like Christianity and Judaism. It amends a 1912 law, considered progressive at the time, that recognized Islam as an official faith. Keep reading
In the first paragraph, this articles makes a reference to "many" who say the new law is "anti-Islam." One does not find out until the sixth paragraph who the "many" are--small Muslim groups most affected by the new law and "Muslim nations and a variety of prominent Islamic figures" who can be expected to object to any restrictions upon Islam. A number of these countries such Saudi Arabia do not permit any other religion beside Islam or turn a blind eye to the Muslim persecution of religious minorities.
Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

ISIS and Radical Islam: Three Articles

ISIS Executes 3 Women, Arrests 13 Others for Refusing to Marry Fighters

The Islamic State terrorist group executed three women and arrested 13 other females in the group's Iraqi stronghold of Mosul on Sunday, after the women refused to get married to ISIS militants.

A Kurdistan Democratic Party official from Mosul, Saed Mamuzini, informed the Kurdish news site on Monday that ISIS continues to kidnap and kill women within its strongholds who refuse to marry fighters.

"On sunday, IS (another name for ISIS) militants arrested 13 women in Mosul and later held them in unknown locations," Mamuzini explained. "The woman were kidnapped because they refused nikah (Muslim marriage) with the jihadists."

Mamuzini also disclosed that three other women were executed at the ISIS base of Ghazlan, in the southwest region of the city, because of their refusal of marriage. Keep reading

Why children of the west are drawn to ISIS

As Islamic State militants have strengthened their hold on Iraq and Syria, a number of young westerners have travelled to the front lines to join their ranks.

Many of these men and women appear to have grown up with ordinary backgrounds. So what is it that drives children of the west to take up arms with a ruthless group of extremists? Keep reading

If Islamic Terrorists Are Devout Muslims, Why Are They Hooked on Porn?

Most radical Islamic jihadis claim to be devout Muslims who promote the spread of strict conservative Islamic societal principles, yet it has been continuously documented through the years that many of those Muslim extremists are chronically addicted to sex and pornography.

Jihadis' obsession with porn and sex is not a new phenomenon that is only being seen today through the "brutal" and "instinctive" sex drive of the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. Even the late Osama Bin Laden, the world-famous leader of Al Qaeda, had a huge collection of porn that was found by Navy Seals who searched his compound when he was killed. Additionally, police raids of terrorist cells in the Europe since 9/11 have revealed "countless" images of child porn, The New York Post reported.

Islamic terrorists being addicted to porn exposes a double standard, especially for those jihadis who blame America and the West for polluting the world with sexual desire, filth and sin.

A number of theories have been proposed as to why pornagraphy use is so prevalent among these "conservative" radical extremists. Keep reading

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Extreme Sport of Raising Money for a New Church Plant

Where do you find enough money to start a church during a global recession? Starting a church in good economic times is daunting enough, but starting one now borders on insanity. Insanity or not, church planting has never been a sport for the faint-hearted. In fact, I have always called it the extreme sport of ministry.

But raising money for a church plant may be THE most extreme part of this extreme sport because it takes vision – plain and simple – and a clear way to communicate that vision. Josh Husmann, Lead Pastor of a new church plant called Mercy Road in Indianapolis, raised more money in one day than the average church planter does in a year. How? He clearly communicated his vision at the recent Next Nuts & Bolts Church Planting conference in Ocala, Florida. And left with a $20,000 check.

All conference attendees had the opportunity to enter their Church Master Plans and compete through a series of interviews with church planting experts. In difficult financial times, Josh brought the key elements that unlock finances for a successful church plant.

This equation determines a church plant’s funding capacity.... Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

9 Things that Won’t Make Us Better Pastors – And 4 That Will

I want to be a better pastor.

I’m always doing everything I can to put more tools in my pastoral tool belt. I read the best books I can find, I seek out wise counsel, I take classes and go to seminars. All of these practices have helped me become a better pastor – some more than others.

But, along the way, I’ve discovered that there are a handful of things many of us strive for that will do nothing to make us better pastors.

I’ve also discovered a list of things that we all know, but sometimes overlook, that will always make us better pastors – and people.

The first list is not exhaustive – it never will be. But I think the second one is. I offer both of them in simple lists because each one stands on its own. Keep reading

The Word-less “Church”

Many American churches are in a mess. Theologically they are indifferent, confused, or dangerously wrong. Liturgically they are the captives of superficial fads. Morally they live lives indistinguishable from the world. They often have a lot of people, money, and activities. But are they really churches, or have they degenerated into peculiar clubs?

What has gone wrong? At the heart of the mess is a simple phenomenon: the churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services. Their sermons and studies usually do not examine the Bible to see what it thinks is important for the people of God. Increasingly they treat the Bible as tidbits of poetic inspiration, of pop psychology, and of self-help advice. Congregations where the Bible is ignored or abused are in the gravest peril. Churches that depart from the Word will soon find that God has departed from them. Keep reading

Who Turned the Lights Out?

A while back Brad sent me this question:
We seem to be developing a debate at our church in regards to turning down the house lights to “set the mood” for better worship. What is your take on that?
Later I received this from Jeremy:
I was wondering if you could offer any commentary regarding the use of lights at any of the WorshipGod conferences. I have memories going back to the “Psalms” conference [in 2008]. In each of the conference settings, it has struck me that the lights in the house are left active during the music-worship time of gatherings. Is that intentional? Is that unintentional? Is it because no one is available to run a lights scheme? :-)
Glad you asked. Yes, we do have someone available to run a lights scheme and yes, leaving the lights up is intentional. Keep reading

Photo credit: Northpoint Community Church

Are You Scaring Off First-Time Guests?

I visited a small, rural church in west Texas a few weeks ago, and there came a place in the service where guests were welcomed. For a brief second, I held my breath thinking, “Surely, they aren’t going to make me stand up and be welcomed.” I thought this because prior to the official “WELCOME OF THE GUESTS” portion of the service, no one had welcomed me in any way. Much to my relief I did not have to stand up, but it made me wonder about the anxiety your first time guests have.

Your guest experience plays a significant role in developing your church brand and church communications strategy. It is critical Church Communications Leaders participate in the shaping of each church experience to ensure the desired brand is being reinforced by experiences. Use the following advice to avoid three common mistakes churches make with guest experiences. Keep reading

ISIS: Christians Worse Than Murderers

ISIS is using a harsh interpretation of a verse in the Quran to justify its attacks on Christians.

This week’s alleged kidnapping of 90 Syrian Christians sent shock waves around the world, but the young men of the Islamic State have been flagging for months now a simple idea: They follow an interpretation of Islam that blesses a 7th-century Quranic war strategy (9:5) to “capture and besiege” anyone who is a mushrikun, or “polytheist,” and Christians, in the world view of the Islamic State, fall into that category.

In gruesome video of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians released last week, Arabic writing flashes over the image of the Christians in captivity (in 3:28 — 3:40 of the video), reading, “They call upon their God and die as al-mushrikun.”

The English translation by the Islamic State says: “They supplicate what they worship and die upon their paganism.” The Islamic State translates the al-mushrikun status of the Egyptian Christians as “paganism.” Keep reading

Also see
ISIS Destroys Second Largest Museum in Iraq

Thursday, February 26, 2015

5 Change Killers in Your Church

The very fact that we’re leaders means we have to chart the course and make bold steps toward the destiny God has designed for us.

The problem is … it doesn’t always work. Change is a scary proposition for most people, and so it’s not always received with the enthusiasm we envision.

Today I’m going to clarify why change is so hard for churches, and a few things we can do to make it easier.... Keep reading

Also see
Leading Change in Hostile Territory

10 Ways to Read Your Community

I have the privilege of hanging out with missionaries, men and women who have learned how to exegete their communities in order to proclaim the gospel in contextualized and relevant ways. I also hang out with local church leaders, though, who often know far too little about the communities they serve. Here are ten ways to “read” your community.... Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain