Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What are these strange things called "pews"?

We are in the middle of moving our church offices and worship gathering location. We are relocating from the campus of Santa Cruz Bible Church, which is a very new contemporary building built about 6 years ago to a very beautiful brick church building built in 1938. We will launching an additional Sunday morning worship gathering the week after Easter and holding our evening gathering there too. The building is somewhat in need of a face-lift and updating - as despite the beauty of it, there are things in it like bulletin boards, carpets, furniture and wallpaper I think have been there since 1938 and even have distinct odors of being there since 1938.

In preparation of moving over there, we have been doing a bunch of redecorating and remodeling of the children's rooms, the offices and now working on the Fellowship Hall turning it into a coffeehouse/art gallery. The whole place was gutted as of last night when I was there. However, one thing that is very puzzling and tormenting me, is the "pews" in the sanctuary. This sanctuary is entirely all pews. I have never been part of a church that has pews, so these things are very confusing to me.

To read more, click here.

When pews were introduced into English churches, they reflected the social stratas of the community. The upper classes and the gentry sat in their own box pews and the local squire had a special box pew opposite the pulpit. The higher an individual or a family was in the social strata, the better was the seat. The lower classes brought their own stools or stood in the alleys, or aisles, of the nave. As late as the seventeenth century the floors of English parish churches were "strawed," i.e., covered with straw. Straw was more comfortable to kneel upon than the flagstone or dirt floor of the nave. The upper classes and the gentry might equip their pews with hassocks, or kneeling cushions. They also put locks on them to keep commoners from using them when they were absent from church. When Charles Simeon first became minister of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, he was so unpopular that the parishioners locked their pews and refused to attend church services. His preaching eventually attracted crowds of undergraduates and other residents of Cambridge. They, however, had to stand in the alleys of the church.

Pastoral Care in the Small Membership Church

James Killen has written this informal yet instructive book at the end of a 45-year career in ministry, half of which was in small-membership churches (defined here as having fewer than 100 members). Although he focuses his advice on churches of this size, much of it also applies to churches of any size.

He begins by asserting that, unlike large-membership churches, where the senior minister may not do much visitation, small-membership congregants rely on their pastor to be directly involved in their lives. "What is needed is a relationship in which you as pastor offer to share your life with others and invite others to share their lives too." Building personal relationships lays the groundwork for not only various types of pastoral care, but also preaching and leadership, which arises out of others knowing and trusting the pastor.

To read more, click here.

Why Do We Worship the Way We Have Always Worshiped When People Keep Changing?

For most of my life I have really disliked worship. My wife tells me that if I weren't a pastor, I would never go to worship. Fifteen years ago she was right about that, although I have managed to change over time. I am a constant tinkerer when it comes to designing worship, always working with our staff and members to figure out how to tweak our worship in a way that will touch people and open them to what I think is paramount in a worship service: encountering and experiencing God in a way that transforms us, even if just a little bit.

The unfortunate reality is that in North American society, neither the surrounding culture nor the church culture embraces the transforming encounter with God. Many mainline churches quit asking long ago whether our worship leads people to an encounter with Christ and the Holy Spirit. Think about why we do what we do in worship. Do we worship the way we do because it is how we have always done it? Do we worship the way we do because it is what we are best at? Do we worship the way we do because it makes certain members of the church happy? These reasons reside at the center of what has caused so many people to walk away from the church. Many people have wanted a tangible, transforming encounter with God but have never found it in worship, because worship has been focused on everything but that transforming encounter. To foster an encounter with God means designing worship that is deliberately focused on making a spiritual and psychological impact on people. If people are to experience God in worship, it needs to resonate with where they are psychologically and spiritually. If we don’t offer people a venue through which they can access the spiritual, they will gladly find some other venue or ignore their spiritual yearnings and substitute the pursuits and pleasures of the world.

The church has to adapt its worship because our culture doesn’t recognize the value of worship when done as it was in generations past. Each generation is different in what it resonates with because over time the culture changes. The result is that worship rooted in previous generations loses its power to connect with each succeeding generation and leads us to address spiritual questions that are no longer being asked, or at least not being asked in a way that can be addressed in forms familiar to today's older generations.

To read more, click here.

What do you think?

Study: Strongest Gulf hurricanes ease near coast

Cool waters just below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico cause the strongest hurricanes to almost always lose intensity before they hit that part of the U.S. coast, according to new research. The findings could help scientists more accurately forecast the storms during this year's hurricane season, which begins Wednesday.

Most of the strongest hurricanes have decreased in intensity just before hitting the Gulf Coast, where two-thirds of all hurricanes to hit land in the USA have struck in the past 30 years, according to a study from the Journal of Weather and Forecasting. (The other third hit the Atlantic coast.)

As disastrous as it was, "even Hurricane Katrina wasn't as bad as it could have been," says study co-author Mark DeMaria of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 175 mph in the Gulf but made landfall in 2005 as a Category 3 with a wind speed of 125 mph.

Overall, of the 12 most powerful hurricanes (Categories 3-5) in the Gulf between 1979 and 2008, including Katrina, 10 weakened during the 12 hours before making landfall, DeMaria reports.

To read more, click here.

June 1st begins hurricane season. It is time for churches to take stock of their disaster relief plans and how they can best serve their own and other communities in a disaster. It is also time for families in hurricane-affected areas to make preparations for the hurricane season. A hurricane may weaken before it makes landfall but this weakening does not prevent it from killing and injuring people and damaging property. It is a time of year to take a cue from the Boy Scouts and "Be Prepared."

Uganda religious leaders act on deforestation

When Anglican bishop Nathan Kyamanywa was appointed to his job in 2002, he decided that climate change should be a matter of concern for Christians. Kyamanywa bought 55 tree seedlings and gave one to each of the parishes in his diocese of Bunyoro-Kitara in western Uganda.

“My fellow bishops laughed at me. They thought I wanted to impress the public. But I can tell you, the tree planting has never stopped since I started,” said Kyamanywa.

The bishop is just one of a number of Ugandan religious leaders from various faiths who are educating their communities about the environment and taking steps to preserve it, particularly in the face of deforestation.

Uganda has lost more than two-thirds of its forests over the last 20 years as its population quickly expands and as access to electricity and other power sources except wood and charcoal remains low.

In addition, the north of the country saw many trees cut down by government forces during a 20-year civil war against the Lord’s Resistance Army, as the government sought to deprive the rebels of hiding places.

To read more, click here.

Worship in Community

Free Digizine. Click here.

Holiness: J. C. Ryle and the Christian Life

Chapter 12: The Ruler of the Waves

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
e said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Mark 4:37-40

It would be well if professing Christians in modern days studied the four Gospels more than they do. No doubt all Scripture is profitable. It is not wise to exalt one part of the Bible at the expense of another. But I think it would be good for some who are very familiar with the Epistles, if they knew a little more about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Now, why do I say this? I say it because I want professing Christians to know more about Christ. It is well to be acquainted with all the doctrines and principles of Christianity. It is better to be acquainted with Christ Himself. It is well to be familiar with faith and grace and justification and sanctification. They are all matters "pertaining to the King." But it is far better to be familiar with Jesus Himself, to see the King’s own face, and to behold His beauty. This is one secret of eminent holiness. He that would be conformed to Christ’s image, and become a Christ–like man, must be constantly studying Christ Himself.

Now the Gospels were written to make us acquainted with Christ. The Holy Spirit has told us the story of His life and death, His sayings and His doings, four times over. Four different inspired hands have drawn the picture of the Savior His ways, His manners, His feelings, His wisdom, His grace, His patience, His love, His power are graciously unfolded to us by four different witnesses. Ought not the sheep to be familiar with the Shepherd? Ought not the patient to be familiar with the Physician? Ought not the bride to be familiar with the Bridegroom? Ought not the sinner to be familiar with the Savior? Beyond doubt it ought to be so. The Gospels were written to make men familiar with Christ, and therefore I wish men to study the Gospels.

On whom must we build our souls if we would be accepted with God? We must build on the Rock, Christ. From whom must we draw that grace of the Spirit which we daily need in order to be fruitful? We must draw from the Vine, Christ. To whom must we look for sympathy when earthly friends fail us or die? We must look to our elder Brother, Christ. By whom must our prayers be presented, if they are to be heard on high? They must be presented by our Advocate, Christ. With whom do we hope to spend the thousand years of glory, and the after eternity? With the King of kings, Christ. Surely we cannot know this Christ too well! Surely there is not a word, nor a deed, nor a day, nor a step, nor a thought in the record of His life, which ought not to be precious to us. We should labor to be familiar with every line that is written about Jesus.

Come now, and let us study a page in our Master’s history. Let us consider what we may learn from the verses of Scripture which stand at the head of this message. You there see Jesus crossing the lake of Galilee, in a boat with His disciples. You see a sudden storm arise while He is asleep. The waves beat into the boat and fill it. Death seems to be close at hand. The frightened disciples awake their Master and cry for help. He arises and rebukes the wind and the waves, and at once there is a calm. He mildly reproves the faithless fears of His companions, and all is over. Such is the picture. It is one full of deep instruction. Come now, and let us examine what we are meant to learn.

Toread more, click here.

The Church in Wales launches recruiting drive for new priests

One in three clergy to retire in next five years

The Church in Wales is struggling to recruit new priests, with nearly one in three of clergy expected to go in the next five years.

A total of 166 clergy are due to retire within the half-decade, leaving the Anglican church with the challenge of finding a new generation of leaders at a time of shrinking congregations.

Next week the church will stage a “ministry and calling Sunday” to urge people to consider ordination. It will also encourage people to recommend a life in the church to others they feel have the skills to serve Welsh congregations.

To read more, click here.

Monday, May 30, 2011


3/4 of the religious persecution in the world is directed at Christians.

In 2/3 of the countries where Christians are persecuted, the persecution is getting worse.

This Is Islam: Christian Man Given Five Years in Prison for Sharing Faith

A Christian man has been sentenced to five years in prison for sharing his faith with his neighbor. According to International Christian Concern, Siagh Krimo was given the sentence last week in Djamel District, Oran, Algeria.

Prosecutors quickly charged Krimo of proselytizing after his neighbor made a complaint, and accused him of making defamatory statements against the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Krimo was sentenced under Article 144 bis 2 of the Algerian Penal Code which makes it a criminal offence to "insult the prophet" or "denigrate the creed and precepts of Islam."

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said: "Algerian Christians have been under attack in recent weeks as laws have been increasingly enforced to discriminate against them.

"While Algeria professes that it upholds religious freedom, it also embraces a blasphemy law that, by its very nature, can be used to prosecute anyone who does not adhere to the religion of Islam.

"We urge Algeria to acquit Siagh of all charges and repeal Article 144 bis 2 of the Penal Code."

To read more, click here.

Americans' Estimate of Gay Population Larger Than It Is

According to a new study, U.S. adults estimate that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian.

The study, conducted by Gallup from May 5 to 8 this year, found that 52 percent of Americans estimate that at least one in five Americans are gay or lesbian.

When the participants were asked what percentage of Americans today they believe are gay or lesbian, both men and women believe that about 25 percent are homosexual. And those with lower incomes, those less educated, women and young adults give the highest estimate.

Democrats and liberals are most likely to give higher estimates. Democrats say 28 percent of the U.S. population is gay or lesbian. Republicans, meanwhile, estimate the gay population is at 20 percent.

To read more, click here.

Holiness:J. C. Ryle on the Christian Life

Chapter II: Christ’s Greatest Trophy

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:39-43

There are few passages in the New Testament which are more familiar to men’s ears than the verses which head this message. They contain the well known story of ‘the penitent thief.’

And it is right and good that these verses should be well known. They have comforted many troubled minds; they have brought peace to many uneasy consciences; they have been a healing balm to many wounded hearts; they have been a medicine to many sin–sick souls; they have smoothed down not a few dying pillows. Wherever the gospel of Christ is preached, they will always be honored, loved and had in remembrance.

I wish to say something about these verses. I will try to unfold the Leading lessons which they are meant to teach. I cannot see the peculiar mental state of anyone into whose hands this message may fall. But I can see truths in this passage which no man can ever know too well. Here is the greatest trophy which Christ ever won.

To read more, click here.

Hearing the Voice of Satan

Christianity is primarily spiritual and supernatural and secondarily moral and ethical. It’s about God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – creating us and redeeming us. It has as its background the spiritual bondage of Satan that has brought us into our rebellion against God. All this has important moral implications, but to confuse or limit Christianity to morality is to domesticate it in such a fashion that it fails even to produce moral behaviour. The driving motivation of genuine Christianity, that morally transforms people and society, is the spiritual.

The Bible clearly teaches of the devil, but referring to Satan in polite society is prone to miscommunication. The community’s level of confusion about spiritual realities is so great that any casual reference to Satan is doomed to misunderstanding.

To read more, click here.

Small groups

Small groups. We all know they are important to church life, but often wonder how they fit in with what we do. We know that a measure of the health of our churches is the percentage of people in small groups. But how should they function as part of our life together?

There seems to be no end of books on this topic.

Sarie King has been working on small groups and has suggested the following three ways of classifying small groups.

•For some of us our small groups fill the gaps left from what our Sunday meetings are unable to do. On Sundays we can’t really get to know each other well or ‘chew the fat’ on what the Scriptures say and their implications for me now, or care for each other in the situations and circumstances through which we are going. And so this is what small groups are for.

•Others see us being a church of small groups. The lifeblood of our lives together are these groups. It means this is where we will put resources, and as we gather in larger groups, we do so to fill the gaps that our small groups cannot meet.

•Still others see the church as small groups. This is seen the cell church movement. There really is no place for what we would call the Sunday gathering.

To read more, click here.

MEMORIAL DAY: 'Band of brothers' gathers at Arlington

Today's Marines in combat are our modern-day "Band of Brothers."

The term Band of Brothers was popularized by the 2001 Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks 10-part TV miniseries about a U.S. Army elite paratrooper unit during World War II, based on a book by Stephen E. Ambrose.

In the book and the miniseries, the men of "Easy Company" of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division formed a brotherhood of their shared experiences from basic training in 1942 at Camp Toccoa, Ga., to D-Day in June of 1944 and their ultimate triumph at the end of World War II.

A modern-day band of brothers has shared a difficult, dangerous and traumatic experience in battle, losing their brothers-in-arms in combat. Those who know the true meaning of brotherhood have lived it daily and established a special bond that binds them together for the rest of their lives.

To read more, click here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

'The Tree of Life' Raises Questions about Bible Narratives

“The Tree of Life” has been lauded by many Christians for carrying Biblical themes, yet at the same time it divides believers for that very reason.

What exactly do the themes mean? What does a 1950s devout Christian family have to do with the dinosaur era and an influx of a symphonic celestial intermission?

The impressionistic film – starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and newcomer Jessica Chastain – opens with a quote from the book of Job and the death of a woman’s son. We don’t really know yet who dies but the pain and suffering transcends even in the absence of dialogue.

The mother who loses her son questions her faith in God. Just as Job was tested, would she renounce her faith in God amid her suffering?

The universal question ultimately becomes: why would God allow bad things to happen to good people.

The movie continues with flashbacks of her oldest son’s past where we get to meet his father, who seems to show little emotion over his son’s death.

To read more, click here.

Related article: The Tree of Life

Are Americans Getting Comfortable With Immorality?

While the majority of Americans believe that the country’s morality is poor and lacking, the gap between those looking for the moral high ground and those who believe we are already morally good is closing.

A Thursday Gallup poll shows the number of Americans who believe the overall state of moral values in the U.S. is poor has dropped seven percentage points to 38 percent. Meanwhile, the number of those who believe the country's morality is excellent or good has risen eight percentage points to 23 percent.

Fewer Americans also believe the country's moral values are getting worse. Sixty-nine percent, down from 76 percent in 2010, say the state of moral values is worsening, while 22 percent, up from 14 percent, believe it’s getting better.

But just by looking at the media, it’s not apparent why more Americans have a positive outlook on U.S. morality today.

"If you look at our popular entertainment, you have a situation where Americans are essentially bombarded immoral or amoral messages," said Matt Philbin, the Culture and Media Institute's managing editor and editorial director.

From movies to animated series and feel-good shows such as "Glee," Americans are constantly met with inappropriate, ungodly, unpatriotic and sexual themes, he pointed out.

To read more, click here.

Porn's destruction is infiltrating the church

Foes of pornography are losing, and an onslaught of sexual attacks likely will result, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land believes.

"We're losing this war. We haven't lost it, but we're losing it," Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said at a conference on porn and sex exploitation. "And if you don't think we're losing it, you spend time with college-age young people, and you'll find out we're losing."

He described hardcore, online pornography as "the greatest danger this country faces."

"[I]t is destroying our culture. It is destroying our families. It is destroying our children," Land said.

To read more, click here.

Related article: Dealing with porn addiction, biblically

Related article: Porn -- in your public library?

BIBLE STORYING, Article 9: Telling the story

In Bible Storying, beyond knowing the background scriptures for each story, you might read a scripture passage for each story to anchor it in the Bible. When you tell the story, the listeners will hear the Bible passage as part of the story. This is one way in which we authenticate the story.

The scripture references in parentheses in the stories in various Bible Storying resources are for your reference only and should not be given as part of the story. Later if a person asks a question and you need to refer to the passage, you will have record of it. Too, add your own references and any discussion points or questions to ask listeners as you study and prepare the stories as you will tell them.

The first several times you attempt to story through the Bible you will feel a need to have your outline or teaching notes in hand along with your Bible. Soon you will find that you can do the stories mostly from memory and not constantly rely upon your notes. This will free you to gesture and articulate your story to hold the listeners' attention and for clarity and understanding as they hear the stories from God's Word.

To read more, click here.

Ordinariate Watch: United but not absorbed

A Reflection on the Ordinariate from An Australian Perspective

The Pope has responded to the requests of many Anglicans (including the Traditional Anglican Communion) that some way might be found to welcome groups of clergy and faithful into communion with the Catholic Church (colloquially known as the "Roman Catholic Church") (RCC) by publishing the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus (AC) which, together with the accompanying Complementary Norms (CN), sets out how this is to take place.

What does this mean for the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia (ACCA), and how will it work in practice?

To read more, click here.

The governing structures of the personal ordinariates are identical to that of a Roman Catholic diocese (see canons 460 - 572 of the Roman Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law.) Under Roman Catholic canon law the ordinary is the sole legislator in the diocese. The governing council, or council of priests, has only a consultative vote. The manner in which the ordinary will be selected by the Roman Pontiff is identical to that for an auxiliary bishop (see canon 377 §4. ) The requirement that the ordinary visit Rome and submit a report in person to the Roman Pontiff every five years is identical to that for a Roman Catholic diocesan bishop (see canons 399 and 400.) The major difference between a personal ordinariate and a Roman Catholic diocese is that a Roman Catholic diocese is territorial. For the time being the ordinary of the personal ordinariate will be a senior Roman Catholic presbyter.

"Adherence to the Articles," the GAFCON Theological Resource Group in Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today tells us, "is constitutive of Anglican identity." Being Anglican is doctrinal. It means being both Protestant and Reformed Catholic since the two concepts, when properly understood, do not conflict with each other. In converting to Roman Catholicism, those who join a personal ordinariate will be abandoning any pretense of being Anglican. They will be Roman Catholics. The idea of being "united but not absorbed" is a fallacy.

Celebrating 90 years of faithful stewardship

Evangelism and pastoral care throughout the years have changed the lives of tens of thousands of Ibans in the Saribas basin and ushered them to a new way of life where faith in God, hope in eternity, peace, discipline, diligence, pursuit of knowledge and goodness to fellow mankind are the defining hallmarksEvangelism and pastoral care throughout the years have changed the lives of tens of thousands of Ibans in the Saribas basin and ushered them to a new way of life where faith in God, hope in eternity, peace, discipline, diligence, pursuit of knowledge and goodness to fellow mankind are the defining hallmarks.

When the early English missionaries set sail for Sarawak to evangelise to the natives in the interior and establish an Anglican mission in the Iban heartland of Saribas, they were inspired by the hope and vision that their new mission field would grow and flourish to become the Canterbury of Borneo serving its vast parish across what was then the Second Division.

Like the historic Canterbury in South East England, the “Canterbury” envisioned for the Saribas basin was to be the hub of the Anglican mission for the spread of the gospel to the Ibans in the vastly dispersed longhouses and the provision of education from primary to secondary school to the locals.

The years that followed saw the mission setting up the St Augustine’s Church on a high terrain at Munggu Lelang, allocated by Sir Charles Brooke, overlooking Betong town and also the St Augustine’s Primary and Secondary Schools and later St Margaret Girls School on a vast physical expanse adjacent to the church.

Although there was a demand for education, an earlier initiative by Lawrence Currey, a lay missionary, to set up an industrial school in Betong was abandoned.

The seed of hope had been planted and the path for spiritual enlightenment and growth had been charted.

The church together with the schools became the nucleus and catalyst for the outreach work of the Anglican mission in the Saribas, Skrang and territories beyond.

To read more, click here.

Lost Leaders

Is the church in danger of losing its next generation of women leaders?

A couple of years ago a leadership mentor challenged me with a tough statement. She said, "Jenni, how you steward your influence as a leader will directly impact the rest of the women in your church." That statement has haunted me ever since.

I'm ashamed to admit that up until that conversation, my leadership had been very me-centric. I was worried about me instead of being intentional about developing other leaders, especially the young women leaders around me. In fact, I wasn't even sure who the young women leaders were in our church. There were hundreds of 20- to 30-something women coming in and out of our doors each week, but I was seeing very few of them lead.

I knew it wasn't because they didn't have the potential. Statistics tell us that there are more single women in the U.S. than married, and those who do marry wait until age 30, on average, to do so. Women also are more educated than ever before.

I also learned by way of conversations and observations that many of the single women in our church were serving at local non-profits and other organizations throughout our city. They want to serve; they have time to serve. But their volunteer and leadership horsepower wasn't being put to use in the church. Why?

To read more, click here.

A Horror Film about Childbirth

In aiming to spotlight infant and maternal mortality rates worldwide, Christy Turlington Burns's No Woman No Cry relies on fear instead of facts.

You could say I'm passionate about birth. I delivered both my children without medication (the second was a water birth) and am trained as a doula. While I'm aware that situations arise that require intervention, even surgery, to keep mother and baby safe, I'm unconvinced that our nation's high cesarean rate is justified, and I think there are plenty of reasons to actively promote more midwife-attended births, even home births. I'm grateful that for most U.S. women, highly skilled medical help is just around the corner, ready to step in should something go wrong. But I also believe that birth is safe.

Yet for lots of women in the world, birth isn't so safe. It's not just that high-tech help isn't around the corner. It's the whole nexus of social, cultural, and economic reasons that make birth a riskier prospect. It's that girls get married and pregnant too young. It's that they haven't been nourished during their growing years or pregnancies. It's that they hold hospitals and non-traditional birth attendants in suspicion. The result? A woman dies from a preventable pregnancy or childbirth complication about every two minutes

To read more, click here.

Holiness: J.C.Ryle on the Christian Life

Chapter 10: A Woman to Be Remembered

"Remember Lot’s wife." (Luke 17:32).

There are few warnings in Scripture more solemn than that which heads this page. The Lord Jesus Christ says to us, "Remember Lot’s wife."

Lot’s wife was a professor of religion; her husband was a "righteous man" (2 Pet. 2:8). She left Sodom with him on the day when Sodom was destroyed; she looked back toward the city from behind her husband, against God’s express command; she was struck dead at once and turned into a pillar of salt. And the Lord Jesus Christ holds her up as a beacon to His church; He says, "Remember Lot’s wife."

It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person Jesus names. He does not bid us remember Abraham or Isaac or Jacob or Sarah or Hannah or Ruth. No, He singles out one whose soul was lost forever. He cries to us, "Remember Lot’s wife."

It is a solemn warning, when we consider the subject Jesus is upon. He is speaking of His own second coming to judge the world; He is describing the dreadful state of unreadiness in which many will be found. The last days are on His mind when He says, "Remember Lot’s wife."

It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person who gives it. The Lord Jesus is full of love, mercy and compassion; He is one who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. He could weep over unbelieving Jerusalem and pray for the men that crucified Him; yet even He thinks it good to remind us of lost souls. Even He says, "Remember Lot’s wife."

It is a solemn warning, when we think of the people to whom it was first given. The Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples; He was not addressing the scribes and Pharisees, who hated Him, but Peter, James and John and many others who loved Him; yet even to them He thinks it good to address a caution. Even to them He says, "Remember Lot’s wife."

It is a solemn warning, when we consider the manner in which it was given. He does not merely say, "Beware of following, take heed of imitating, do not be like Lot’s wife." He uses a different word: He says, "Remember." He speaks as if we were all in danger of forgetting the subject; He stirs up our lazy memories; He bids us keep the case before our minds. He cries, "Remember Lot’s wife."

I propose to examine the lessons which Lot’s wife is meant to teach us. I am sure that her history is full of useful instruction to the church. The last days are upon us; the second coming of the Lord Jesus draws near; the danger of worldliness is yearly increasing in the church. Let us be provided with safeguards and antidotes against the disease that is around us and, not least, let us become familiar with the story of Lot’s wife.

Let us consider now the religious privileges Lot’s wife enjoyed, the particular sin she committed, and the judgement which God inflicted upon her.

To read more, click here.

The Return of Meatless Friday

Every year during the 40 days of Lent, millions of Catholics honor Jesus's crucifixion by foregoing meat in their Friday meals. But starting this September, if the bishops of England and Wales have their way, Catholics there will abstain from meat every Friday, year-round. This change marks the revival of a practice that the church abandoned a half-century ago—and it's the latest of several in recent years.

Catholic tradition calls for acts of penance every Friday, the day of Jesus's death, but observance of that tradition has changed dramatically since the modernizing reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Bishops in most countries eliminated abstinence from meat or limited it to Lent alone, and each Catholic became free to choose his own form of Friday penance: skipping television, perhaps, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. This effectively meant the disappearance of Friday penance altogether. In my 11 years of Catholic schooling, I don't recall hearing it mentioned once.

That's why the announcement by the bishops of England and Wales is so significant. To anyone with a taste for sushi or smoked salmon, missing hamburger once a week might present little inconvenience. But then, lightly beating one's breast, as Catholics do in one version of the Penitential rite during Mass, isn't a serious form of corporal mortification either. Catholicism is a fundamentally symbolic religion whose teachings are typically embodied in conventional signs and gestures.

The English and Welsh bishops specified that they were instructing their flocks to resume Friday abstinence "as a clear and a distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity," adding that the "best habits are those which are acquired as part of a common resolve and common witness."

To read more, click here.

Christ-Centered Mindset

The goal is to grow toward a gifts-based ministry, where people serve out of their gifts and passions.

Any discussion about core values as they relate to church volunteers must begin with a distinction between a volunteer-management mindset and a Christ-centered ministry mindset. A volunteer-management mindset evaluates the church's needs and finds someone willing to take on the task, with little or no regard for the gifts, talents, or passions of the individual.

A Christ-centered ministry mindset, however, makes every effort to discover a person's unique gifts and calling, and to encourage each person to serve where God has equipped him or her to do so.

A ministry mindset starts with the assumption that a local church already has all the gifted people it needs to accomplish the ministries God intends it to have right now.

Reorienting your church mindset starts by assessing how the church currently relates to the people who serve there: First, does your church communicate that it really trusts lay people to accomplish the ministry? Trusting people means allowing them to fail. Accountability is often learned by experiencing the impact of "what I didn't do."

To read more, click here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

New Churches

New Churches has compiled an extensive list of tools and resources that have proven to be extremely beneficial to church planters. To visit the New Churches website, click here.

Church Planting Village

Your One Stop Shop for Church Planting
The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention created this website for Southern Baptist churches and church planters. Church Planting Village also contains useful resources for Anglicans with a heart for those who do not know Christ and a desire to reach them with the gospel through the planting of new gospel churches. To explore Church Planting Village, click here.

What to Do with Aunt Julie

Harold Camping is only the latest "problem" relative.

I once had an aunt with a serious case of schizophrenia. She thought one of her daughters came to her on a beam of light from the moon. She also had rages of temper and threatened to kill her children. Things got so bad, she had to be hospitalized for a time, and then medicated for years.

One day I was driving through the community where she lived, Bryte (just over the river from Sacramento), because my mother spent a large part of her childhood there. I was with my wife and my father; I had asked my dad to explain everything he knew about my late mother's life there—where she lived, the gas station she was born in, and other such lore. We were hoping to do a drive by, wanting to avoid my Aunt Julie at all costs. But as we drove down her street, we spotted a man shouting for help from a rooftop. It appeared his ladder had fallen over. So my dad got out of the car and propped the ladder up against his house.

As fate would have it, this man's house stood next to my aunt's house, and before my dad could make a safe escape, out popped Aunt Julie, "Bob? Bob Galli!? What are you doing here? What a wonderful surprise!"

And before you know it, we were in Aunt Julie's house, sipping coffee and soft drinks, listening to her strange and wonderful stories.

Toread more, click here.

Court Upholds Missionary's Free Speech Rights

A federal appeals court has come down on the side of a Christian evangelist who was barred by a Detroit suburb from handing out leaflets at an Arab-American street festival.

Dearborn and its police department had sought to restrict the areas where George Saieg could hand out flyers during the Arab International Festival on Warren Avenue last year.

Saieg, an Arab-American from California, was offered a free booth from which to distribute his literature but was prohibited from walking freely around the sidewalks to hand out flyers.

The literature in question related to the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the restrictions on Saieg violated his rights to free speech and were unreasonable, given that pedestrians and vendors were able to use the sidewalks.

The 2-1 decision in the court means that the city and Police Chief Ronald Haddad could be held liable for damages.

To read more, click here.

Born-Again Christians Singled Out in Brain Atrophy Study?

A recent brain image study found a curious link between the shrinking of the part of the brain responsible for memory and being a born-again Christian.

The study, titled “Religious Factors and Hippocampal Atrophy in Late Life,” from Duke University Medical Center analyzed high-resolution MRI data of participants’ hippocampal volumes and found that there was greater hippocampal atrophy in participants who were born-again Protestants, Catholics and those with no religious affiliation than people who are from Mainline Protestant churches.

In other words, non-born-again Christians had a bigger hippocampus than born-again Christians.

Wheaton College professor of psychology Dr. William Struthers described the study as interesting but called attention to what is missing.

“The covariates that they mention in the study – specifically age, depression status, and sex – are really missing and I would want to look at that data before I draw any additional conclusions from that,” said Struthers to The Christian Post on Thursday.

“My concern is how this data is utilized, and if it is used as a way to demean people of faith. Is it used as a way to make people feel as if they are stupid? That their brains are smaller because they are born-again Christians or they are born-again Christians because their brains are smaller,” he questioned. “[T]hat is a place that we want to be careful not to go.”

To read more, click here.

Holiness: J.C. Ryle and the Christian Life

Chapter 9: Lot--A Beacon

"He lingered" (Gen. 19:16).

The Holy Scriptures, which were written for our learning, contain beacons as well as patterns. They show us examples of what we should avoid, as well as examples of what we should follow. The man whose name heads this page is set for a beacon to the whole church of Christ. His character is put before us in one little word: "He lingered." Let us sit down and look at this beacon for a few minutes. Let us consider Lot.

Who is this man who lingered? It is the nephew of faithful Abraham. And when did he linger? The very morning Sodom was to be destroyed. And where did he linger? Within the walls of Sodom itself. And before whom did he linger? Under the eyes of the two angels who were sent to bring him out of the city. Even then "he lingered"!

The words are solemn and full of food for thought. They ought to sound like a trumpet in the ears of all who make any profession of religion. I trust they will make every reader of this message think. Who knows but they are the very words your soul requires? The voice of the Lord Jesus commands you to "remember Lot’s wife" (Luke 17:32). The voice of one of His ministers invites you this day to remember Lot.

Let us examine the state of Lot himself, what the text says of him, why he lingered, and what sort of fruit he brought forth, the whole while paying special attention as an instruction for holiness. The main principle is clear: We must not follow the example of Lot; we must not linger.

Once more, I say, "Lot is a beacon."

To read more, click here.

This Is Islam: Four men slashed teacher's face and left him with fractured skull 'for teaching other religions to Muslim girls'

Four men launched a horrific attack on a teacher in which they slashed his face and left him with a fractured skull because they did not approve of him teaching religion to Muslim girls.

Akmol Hussein, 26, Sheikh Rashid, 27, Azad Hussain, 25, and Simon Alam, 19, attacked Gary Smith with a Stanley knife, an iron rod and a block of cement.

Mr Smith, who is head of religious education at Central Foundation Girls' School in Bow, east London, also suffered a fractured skull.

The four now face a jail sentence.

Detectives made secret recordings of the gang's plot to attack Mr Smith prior to the brutal assault.

The covert audio probe captured the gang condemning Mr Smith for 'teaching other religions to our sisters', the court heard.

To read more, click here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Post-American Church (Part Uno)

Third culture" leaders are the future of the church.

A week ago I returned from a trip to Spain where I was speaking with a team of missionaries working in different regions of the country. Yes, I was suffering for the Lord on a Mediterranean beach. Apart from the breathtaking beauty of Peñíscola, Spain, I was blessed to share time with some spectacular people engaged in very good work.

When many Americans think about missionaries they picture a team of Western, Anglo, people doing evangelism and church planting among dark-skinned “natives.” Perhaps that image was true at one time, but it’s definitely not anymore. As someone has recently remarked, missions today is “from everywhere to everywhere.”

The team of missionaries I spoke with in Spain included people from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and the Netherlands. And they were serving among Spaniards, Portuguese, Chinese, Moroccans, Latin Americans, and Arabs. In many cases they reported greater receptivity to the gospel among immigrant populations in Spain rather than among native Spaniards. It was a striking example of how globalization has radically “flattened” our planet.

And the nature of the ministries engaged by these workers was just as diverse as their passports. Some were planting churches, others had started a mission to rescue women from human trafficking, another team was doing marriage and family counseling, and others were helping immigrants from North Africa learn Spanish and find jobs. In other words, despite having a shared denominational background this team was not limited to a single missions playbook.

I came way from my time in Spain with two observations that may have some relevancy to the church on this side of “the pond.”

To read more, click here.

Barna Research Points to Opportunities for Churches to Address Technology

According to a new research study conducted by The Barna Group, many parents and teens are interested in receiving guidance from their churches concerning media and technology, yet few churches are addressing these issues.

The summary of the study reports,

Most parents and tweens/teens have not heard any kind of teaching in a church, religious setting, or public forum (like a school) about how families can best use media, entertainment or technology.Y

et the report goes on to say,

When asked if they would be open to one version of such training—“a Christian or faith-based perspective about how to be a good user of entertainment and technology without letting things negatively impact your family relationships”—about two-fifths of parents (42%) and one-third of tweens and teens (33%) expressed interest.

To read more, click here.

TECHNOLOGY: 5 tips for using on-screen lyrics in church

You are the unsung hero of Sunday Morning worship. You have no voice, no one sees your face, and there is no training program to help you refine your skills. You simply go with your gut: You are the person who puts the lyrics on the screen.

Knowing what words to sing during a song used to be a very personal thing, flipping the pages through your Baptist Hymnal. The worship leader would tell you what song number to turn to, and you'd see the words and notes -- even the bass line. But now we have software like MediaShout and ProPresenter, allowing volunteers the chance to help lead worship through visual elements and textual display of the verses.

Just like playing a guitar or even preaching a sermon, there is no "right" way to present the lyrics on any given Sunday. And yet, people are always opinionated and what seems like a mundane job can either help people freely express their worship to God or, unfortunately, cause them distractions. Here are five quick tips for a better visual experience.

To read more, click here.

Holiness: J. C. Ryle on the Christian Life

Chapter 8: Moses--An Example

"By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward." (Hebrews 11:24–26).

The characters of God’s most eminent saints, as drawn and described in the Bible, form a most useful part of Holy Scripture. Abstract doctrines and principles and precepts are all most valuable in their way; but after all nothing is more helpful than a pattern or example. Do we want to know what practical holiness is? Let us sit down and study the picture of an eminently holy man. I propose in this message to set before my readers the history of a man who lived by faith and left us a pattern of what faith can do in promoting holiness of character. To all who want to know what "living by faith" means, I offer Moses as an example.

The eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from which my text is taken, is a great chapter: it deserves to be printed in golden letters. I can well believe it must have been most cheering and encouraging to a converted Jew. I suppose no members of the early church found so much difficulty in a profession of Christianity as the Hebrews did. The way was narrow to all, but pre–eminently so to them. The cross was heavy to all, but surely they had to carry double weight. And this chapter would refresh them like a cordial; it would be as "wine to those that be of heavy hearts." Its words would be "pleasant as the honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones" (Prov. 31:6; 16:24).

The three verses I am going to explain are far from being the least interesting in the chapter. Indeed I think few, if any, have so strong a claim on our attention. And I will explain why I say so.

It seems to me that the work of faith described in the story of Moses comes home more especially to our own case. The men of God who are named in the former part of the chapter are all examples to us beyond question. But we cannot literally do what most of them did, however much we may drink into their spirit. We are not called upon to offer a literal sacrifice like Abel, or to build a literal ark like Noah, or to leave our country literally, and dwell in tents, and offer up our Isaac like Abraham. But the faith of Moses comes nearer to us. It seems to operate in a way more familiar to our own experience. It made him take up a line of conduct such as we must sometimes take up ourselves in the present day, each in our own walk of life, if we would be consistent Christians. And for this reason, I think these three verses deserve more than ordinary consideration.

Now I have nothing but the simplest things to say about them. I shall only try to show the greatness of the things Moses did and the principle on which he did them. And then perhaps we shall be better prepared for the practical instruction which the verses appear to hold out to everyone who will receive it.

To read more, click here.

Oprah Winfrey, spiritual leader?

Oprah Winfrey plays many roles-- talk show host, chairman of a television network, philanthropist — but the one she says is most important to her is that of spiritual leader.

“. . .I’m very clear about what my role and purpose is,” Winfrey said to Piers Morgan in a January interview.

“This isn’t about me. I am the messenger to deliver the message of redemption, of hope, of forgiveness, of gratitude, of evolving people to the best of themselves. So I am on my personal journey. My personal journey is to fulfill the highest expression of myself here as a human being here on earth.”

If it sounds like Oprah is using elegant, non-religious language to describe her spiritual purpose, that’s because she is. The Baptist girl from Mississippi has evolved into a living symbol of the “spiritual but not religious” movement, delivering new age gurus to suburban living rooms and calling her largely female devotees to their embrace their life’s great purpose.

To read more, click here.

Related article: The Church of O

Column: Does it matter if only 1.4% of people are gay?

The nation's increasingly visible and influential gay community embraces the notion of sexual orientation as an innate, immutable characteristic, like left-handedness or eye color. But a major federal sex survey suggests a far more fluid, varied life experience for those who acknowledge same-sex attraction.

The results of this scientific research shouldn't undermine the hard-won respect recently achieved by gay Americans, but they do suggest that choice and change play larger roles in sexual identity than commonly assumed. The prestigious study in question (released in March by the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) discovered a much smaller number of "gays, lesbians and homosexuals" than generally reported by the news media. While pop-culture frequently cites the figure of one in 10 (based on 60-year-old, widely discredited conclusions from pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey) the new study finds only 1.4% of the population identifying with same-sex orientation.

Moreover, even among those who describe themselves as homosexual or bisexual (a grand total of 3.7% of the 18-44 age group), overwhelming majorities (81%) say they've experienced sex with partners of the opposite gender. Among those who call themselves heterosexual, on the other hand, only a tiny minority (6%) ever engaged in physical intimacy of any kind with a member of the same sex These figure indicate that 94% of those living heterosexual lives felt no physical attraction to members of the same sex, but the great bulk of self-identified homosexuals and bisexuals feel enough intimate interest in the opposite gender to engage in erotic contact at some stage in their development.

To read more, click here.

May 2011 Australian Church Record

The latest issue of The Australian Church Record has been released on their website.

It’s available as an 820kb PDF file.

Originally posted on the Anglican Church League website

Provincial Official in Algeria Orders Churches to Close

Christians plan to attend services this weekend despite intimidation tactics.

Seven Algerian churches face closure this week after the governor of their province sent them written notice that they were operating “illegally.”

The notice on Sunday (May 22) from Police Chief Ben Salma, citing a May 8 decree from the Bejaia Province governor, also states that all churches “in all parts of the country” will be closed for lack of compliance with registration regulations, but Christian leaders dismissed this assertion as the provincial official does not have nationwide authority.

“All buildings permanently designated for or in the process of being designated for the practice of religious worship other than Muslim will be permanently closed down in all parts of the country, as well as those not having received the conformity authorization from the National Commission,” Salma stated in the notice.

To read more, click here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dylan at the Foot of the Cross

Longtime disciple? Converted soldier? Secular prophet? The questions linger as the troubadour turns 70.

I taped a photocopied picture of Bob Dylan to my office door during the time I spent thinking about and writing this book. It is my favorite picture of the singer, taken likely in the fall of 1975. He is standing in a cemetery by a large crucifix, in the Catholic grotto in Lowell, Massachusetts. Jack Kerouac's grave is in this cemetery, so the motley crew touring with Dylan at the time stopped by the Beat writer's hometown to pay their respects. There are other photographs of this visit to the Lowell cemetery showing Dylan and poet Allen Ginsberg sitting cross-legged at Kerouac's grave.

The picture on my office door shows Dylan standing in front of the tall statue, his feathered hat just inches below Christ's nailed feet. He carries a large tree branch as a walking stick while the camera looks up into his face, capturing both the singer's stoic expression and the Messiah's agony all at once. The picture has symbolic potential that illustrates challenges facing those interested in Bob Dylan's relationship to religion.

For one thing, though Christ is in the picture, Dylan is the focal point. Christ on the cross looks off into the distant heavens, remote and inaccessible. Dylan, on the other hand, stares penetratingly into the eyes of anyone looking at the photograph. It is actually difficult to focus on the crucified figure, which is off center. We view Christ at a slight angle. He appears high in the frame of the picture, and we cannot make eye contact with him. Dylan's shadowed eyes, on the other hand, stare back at us from dead center of the picture. He has an authoritative, confident stance—one thumb coolly placed in a pocket, jacket thrown over his shoulder like a cape. The other hand grasps his walking stick firmly. He could be Moses leading his people, poised to strike against the rock (see Exod. 17:5-6).

To read more, click here.

Being Formed in Christ

Five facets in spiritual formation

Every person, at some point in life, must decide whether or not to receive Jesus Christ as his or her personal Lord and Savior. But that is just the starting point of a lifelong journey in discipleship as a follower of Jesus. As the apostle Paul says, we are to grow mature in Christ. We grow up into the head of the Body, who is Christ (Eph. 4:15). Such "growing up" is the process of spiritual formation.

To be formed spiritually means to engage in specific practices and disciplines with one clear goal: to draw nearer to God in Christ and so focus less and less on self. Richard of Chichester, a 13th-century English bishop, once reflected on such practices. "Day by day," he said, "three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, and to follow thee more nearly." Spiritual formation is a process that sharpens our attentiveness to God and helps us to be more and more like Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. These practices are shaped by our temperament and personality type.

Finally, in all spiritual formation and development, it is important to remember that spiritual formation does not propel us on a journey. A journey is an exploration without a destination. The joy of the journey is in the exploration and discovery along the way. That really is a secular and postmodern understanding of "spirituality." In spiritual formation, we are on a pilgrimage with a clear destination. As Jesus defines his ministry, we are destined for the kingdom of God. We are "in rehearsal" for life in eternity, in the very presence of God. On this earth, we engage in this earthly pilgrimage day by day.

The five facets of spiritual formation, then, are: reflective reading, active repentance, total stewardship, penetrating prayer, and community accountability. As we consider specific practices that aid in formation, it is essential to be prepared to surrender time. Spiritual formation cannot be found in a "Five Minutes to Improved Spirituality" product. Be prepared to change the pattern of your life to practice the purposes of God.

To read more, click here.

U.S. Muslims Double by 2030

In the United States, the number of Muslims is expected to increase from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million by 2030, in large part because of immigration and higher-than-average fertility among Muslims.

The Muslim share of the U.S. population (adults and children) is projected to grow from 0.8% in 2010 to 1.7% in 2030, making Muslims roughly as numerous as Jews or Episcopalians are in the United States today. Pew Research reports, "Although several European countries will have substantially higher percentages of Muslims, the United States is projected to have a larger number of Muslims by 2030 than any European country other than Russia and France."

To read more, click here.

Family-Friendly Small Groups

Why you, and your church, should support the families of group members

If you're a parent or spouse involved in a small group, chances are good that a bit of tension has developed between your responsibilities in those circles. But small groups and families don't have to be at war. They can even help and support each other! These practical resources from small-groups and family experts can show you how.

To view resource list, click here.

To read article, "Your Small Group and Your Family," click here.

Holiness: J. C. Ryle on the Christian Life

Chapter 7: Assurance

"I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6–8).

Here we see the apostle Paul looking three ways: downward, backward, forward—downward to the grave, backward to his own ministry, forward to that great day, the day of judgment!

It will do us good to stand by the apostle’s side a few minutes and mark the words he uses. Happy is that soul who can look where Paul looked and then speak as Paul spoke!

a. He looks downward to the grave, and he does it without fear. Hear what he says: "I am ready to be offered." I am like an animal brought to the place of sacrifice and bound with cords to the very horns of the altar. The drink offering, which generally accompanies the oblation, is already being poured out. The last ceremonies have been gone through. Every preparation has been made. It only remains to receive the death–blow, and then all is over.

"The time of my departure is at hand." I am like a ship about to unmoor and put to sea. All on board is ready. I only wait to have the moorings cast off that fasten me to the shore, and I shall then set sail and begin my voyage.

These are remarkable words to come from the lips of a child of Adam like ourselves! Death is a solemn thing, and never so much so as when we see it close at hand. The grave is a chilling, heart–sickening place, and it is vain to pretend it has no terrors. Yet here is a mortal man who can look calmly into the narrow "house appointed for all living," and say, while he stands upon the brink, "I see it all, and am not afraid."

b. Let us listen to him again. He looks backward to his ministerial life, and he does it without shame. Hear what he says: "I have fought a good fight." There he speaks as a soldier. I have fought that good fight with the world, the flesh and the devil, from which so many shrink and draw back.

"I have finished my course." There he speaks as one who has run for a prize. I have run the race marked out for me. I have gone over the ground appointed for me, however rough and steep. I have not turned aside because of difficulties, nor been discouraged by the length of the way. I am at last in sight of the goal.

"I have kept the faith." There he speaks as a steward. I have held fast that glorious gospel which was committed to my trust. I have not mingled it with man’s traditions, nor spoiled its simplicity by adding my own inventions, nor allowed others to adulterate it without withstanding them to the face. "As a soldier, a runner, a steward," he seems to say, "I am not ashamed."

That Christian is happy who, as he quits the world, can leave such testimony behind him. A good conscience will save no man, wash away no sin, not lift us one hair’s breadth towards heaven. Yet a good conscience will be found a pleasant visitor at our bedside in a dying hour. There is a fine passage in Pilgrim’s Progress which describes old Honest’s passage across the river of death. "The river," says Bunyan, "at that time overflowed its banks in some places; but Mr. Honest in his lifetime had spoken to one Good Conscience to meet him there; the which he also did, and lent him his hand, and so helped him over." We may be sure, there is a mine of truth in that passage.

c. Let us hear the apostle once more. He looks forward to the great day of reckoning, and he does it without doubt. Mark his words: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." "A glorious reward," he seems to say, "is ready and laid up in store for me—even that crown which is only given to the righteous. In the great day of judgment the Lord shall give this crown to me, and to all beside me who have loved Him as an unseen Savior, and longed to see Him face to face. My work on earth is over. This one thing now remains for me to look forward to, and nothing more."

Let us observe that the apostle speaks without any hesitation or distrust. He regards the crown as a sure thing, as his own already. He declares with unfaltering confidence his firm persuasion that the righteous Judge will give it to him. Paul was no stranger to all the circumstances and accompaniments of that solemn day to which he referred. The great white throne, the assembled world, the open books, the revealing of all secrets, the listening angels, the awful sentence, the eternal separation of the lost and saved—all these were things with which he was well acquainted. But none of these things moved him. His strong faith overleaped them all and saw only Jesus, his all–prevailing Advocate, and the blood of sprinkling, and sin washed away. "A crown," he says, "is laid up for me." "The Lord Himself shall give it to me." He speaks as if he saw it all with his own eyes.

Such are the main things which these verses contain. Of most of them I shall not speak because I want to confine myself to the special subject of this exposition. I shall only try to consider one point in the passage. That point is the strong "assurance of hope," with which the apostle looks forward to his own prospects in the day of judgment.

I shall consider it readily, and at the same time with fear and trembling. I feel that I am treading on very difficult ground and that it is easy to speak rashly and unscripturally in this matter. The road between truth and error is here especially a narrow pass; and if I shall be enabled to do good to some without doing harm to others, I shall be very thankful.

I shall lay out the Scriptural reality for an assured hope, as well as explain that some are saved who never attain it. Also, I will explain why assurance is desirable, and remark on why it is so seldom acquired.

If I am not greatly mistaken, there is a very close connection between true holiness and assurance. Before I close this message, I hope to show my readers the nature of that connection. At present, I content myself with saying, that where there is the most holiness, there is generally the most assurance.

To read more, click here.

Maybe Looks Matter After All? Church Congregation Doubles Under Pretty Blonde Vicar

And they say looks don’t matter. Well, that’s the theory anyway, and it’s being debunked by one church in England that has seen its congregation size double since appointing a pretty young blonde as its new curate.
St. Mary The Virgin in leafy Caterham, Surrey, had been experiencing a decline in attendance over the years but the arrival of Stephanie "Steph" Nadarajah has heralded the start of a boom time for the church.

Just six months ago, the church’s attendance stood at around 75 and Steph was healthier in pocket as an NHS manager.

She opted for a “massive drop” in salary to take up the church post but so far has no regrets about her decision, as the church is, in her own words, "thriving."

In the last six months, attendance has increased and there are now around 150 people showing up each Sunday to hear the 29-year-old preach.

According to the U.K. newspaper, Daily Mail, Steph encounters the occasional “shocked looks” when she tells people she is the new curate, but she has seen some advantages in that.

To read more, click here.

Related article: Never mind hymn.. look at her! Church doubles congregation by hiring blonde 29-year-old vicar

Oprah Winfrey Bids Farewell, Daytime TV Loses 'Spiritual Leader'

The Oprah Winfrey Show, the most popular talk show on TV, is airing its farewell episode Wednesday.

After a memorable 25-year run, Winfrey will be leaving daytime television with a more quiet and personal show of simply thanking her viewers.

It's the finale episode of one of the world's most powerful women that millions of people are expected to watch. With a wide fan base and a long list of celebrity supporters, her influence is undeniable.

But some have gone as far as to deem her as a sort of spiritual leader in America.

And her "gospel" message all these years has been about "you," observed Kathryn Lofton, author of Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon.

Lofton, assistant professor of American studies and religious studies at Yale, told Salon.com that the "good news" that she has been sharing for more than two decades is "that if you take hold of your life, if you discover (as she says) your best life, anything is possible."

To read more, click here.

Who to Count On When Disaster Strikes – Gov't, Church or Both?

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept through Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, wreaking havoc over several hundred square miles with dollar losses in the billions. Last month central Alabama suffered substantial damage when a tornado crushed the City of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and surrounding areas. On Sunday, Joplin, Mo., suffered devastating losses due to tornados and just yesterday, the central U.S. was hit by violent storms. When such destruction occurs, should we expect the government to step in and rebuild damaged areas or is the church capable of assuming such a huge role?

Bart Smelley, a resident of Tuscaloosa, Ala., is no stranger to destruction. For the past two years he has worked with Global Effects Ministry to manufacture and distribute water filters to the hardest hit areas of Haiti. He’s seen firsthand the most devastating destruction the western hemisphere has experienced in over a century, but now the destruction hit closer to home. In April, while on a mission trip in Haiti, Bart received word his son’s home had been hit by a tornado.

Smelley’s experience in Haiti rarely involved working with government agencies; Haiti’s agencies were all but incapable of providing any assistance. Instead, it was the work of church and non-profit groups that traveled thousands of miles to help the people of the Caribbean island.

Yet when Smelley arrived back in Tuscaloosa to help his son and daughter-in-law, he was amazed at the efficiency of government agencies and churches working together.

“The churches in Tuscaloosa responded hand-in-hand with government and relief organizations to meet the needs of our community. It’s the biggest joint effort I have seen in my life,” said Smelley.

Mark Engholm, Public Affairs Officer for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, echoed Smelley’s comments.

To read more, click here.