Monday, December 31, 2012

5 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor in 2013



Just the other day I received a letter in the mail from a medical doctor whom I have never met before. Having told me how he had benefited from some of my sermons and articles, he went on to tell me, “I pray for you. I will be able to do so on a very regular basis now and trust that you will be helped and strengthened in your ministry and family.” This was an enormous comfort and encouragement to me. Contrary to what some might suppose, ministers of the gospel desperately need the prayers of the saints. One of my seminary professors used to tell the student body, “Pastors have a bull’s eye on their back and footprints up their chest.” This is quite an appropriate description of the hardships that God’s servants are called to endure for the sake of the gospel. The flaming arrows of the evil one are persistently being shot at pastors. In addition, the world is eager to run them over at any opportunity. This is, sadly, also a reality with regard to some in the church.

With so much opposition and difficulty within and without, pastors constantly need the people of God to be praying for them. The shepherd needs the prayers of the sheep as much as they need his prayers. He also is one of Christ’s sheep, and is susceptible to the same weaknesses. While there are many things one could pray for pastors, here are five straightforward Scriptural categories.... Read more

What Church Leaders Should Know About Effective Communication



Communication can make or break an organization. Effective communication can help organizations solve problems and accomplish their goals. Poor communication can cripple organizations, creating even more problems and preventing them from focusing on the goals they’ve set.

There are several factors that make communicating difficult. From my conversations with leaders both young and old, the primary reason communication seems to break down in organizations today is the generational divide. Young people and older people communicate in very different ways from very different perspectives.

A few days ago, I discovered this thought by Jessamyn West:
“There are two barriers that often prevent communication between the young and their elders. The first is middle-aged forgetfulness of the fact that they themselves are no longer young. The second is youthful ignorance of the fact that the middle aged are still alive.”
Thankfully, these difficulties aren’t insurmountable! I found two resources that can help. Read more

Thirteen Issues for Churches in 2013: Issues 1-6



As the new year unfolds, it is always a healthy exercise to look ahead to key opportunities and key challenges. Certainly such an effort is in order for congregations in North America. I plan to look at thirteen of those issues in this blog and my blog on Wednesday.

This extrapolation is not an exercise in keen foresight or extraordinary mental acumen. I am simply looking at current issues that seem to be gaining momentum. These issues will present themselves unevenly to different churches. But I foresee that tens of thousands of American congregations will be impacted by each of them.

I am grateful to Sam Rainer for his recent post, “Looking Ahead to 2013: What Should the Church Expect.” Many of his seminal ideas are captured in these articles. Though I list the issues in numerical order, I am not attempting to assign any degree of importance of one over another. Read more

Rebuttal to Newsweek's Cover Story on 'The Myths of Jesus'


Suppose you were to read an overall negative article about a man who outwardly appeared to be respectable---but then, suppose you found out that, unbeknownst to the readers of the article, it was actually penned by his ex-wife? Wouldn't that make you at least a little suspicious about the article's contents?

So it is with Newsweek's cover story on Jesus (Dec. 17), entitled, "The Myths of Jesus." They show a Nativity scene with bubble quotes asking these questions: "Who Was Jesus?" "How Many Wise Men Were There?" "Did He Have a Wife?" "In a Manger or a Cave?" "Why Bethlehem?" Just in time for Christmas, they choose to stir up doubt.

What the article doesn't tell you is much about the author's (Dr. Bart D. Ehrman) own background. Newsweek mentions him as the author of "Did Jesus Exist?" and "Jesus Interrupted." But he formerly professed to be an evangelical Christian, who writes best-selling books that purport to debunk the reliability of the New Testament, such as "Forged," which postulates that much of the New Testament was forged (a charge easily dismissed).  Read more

Practicing What I Preach


When I saw our church's lack of adult conversions, I made a personal commitment to evangelism.

When pastors think about evangelism, we tend to assume our primary role is to equip others to evangelize, or to evangelize from the pulpit. While those roles are important, I knew I needed to do more.

Paul told Timothy, "Do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5). Paul is saying that we leaders need to engage unbelievers, and I am challenged by that mandate. Sure, I do that from the pulpit, but all church members have incredible opportunities to share the gospel in their community and workplace. I have those opportunities, too—but I had to do something to find them and to connect with folks far from God. Read more

Genocide in Shades of Pink

Photo:  Gary Gnidovic
In his first night of rotation at a Delhi hospital, Puneet Bedi was assigned to the obstetrics ward. A wide-eyed 20-year-old medical student, he was excited by the prospect of becoming a doctor responsible for human life. He hoped to witness a birth that night.

Minutes after catching a glimpse of the labor room, Bedi was intercepted by a cat with something bloody dangling from its mouth. It wasn't until he saw a five-month-old fetus discarded on an uncovered tray, lying in a pool of blood, that he realized what the cat had eaten.

As the night wore on, Bedi witnessed more abortions than births. All of them were performed on women who were at least four months pregnant. When he worked up the nerve to ask why so many fetuses were being discarded, and why he had seen a cat eat one, a staff member explained tersely: "Because they are girls."

Three decades later, Bedi, an ob-gyn consultant at a New Delhi hospital, recounted this experience to Mara Hvistendahl, who last year persuasively demonstrated a chilling reality in her Pulitzer-nominated book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.  There's a gender-based genocide afoot the world over, and it's having profound implications—none of them good.

For starters, there's the skewed sex ratio. Demographer Christophe Guilmoto has calculated that if Asia's sex ratio at birth had remained at its natural balance of 105 boys to 100 girls (boys are slightly more vulnerable to childhood diseases, and this ratio provides for equal numbers at marriageable age) over the past three decades, the continent would have an additional 163 million females. That's how many females he estimates have been aborted—the equivalent of every female in America today.

"No more girls at the mall or in supermarkets, in hospitals, boardrooms, or classrooms," says Hvistendahl. "Imagine this, and you come close to picturing the problem."

In Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn confirm the scope of the problem: More girls have been killed in the past 50 years than men in all the wars of the 20th century. In countries like China and India, hearing "It's a girl" is not cause for celebration; it's a death sentence.

Why, then, if one of the largest crimes against humanity is happening under our noses, have we heard so little about it? And what, if anything, is the church doing to slow down the holocaust? Read more

United Kingdom: Christian Sunday worker loses appeal


A Christian children's worker has lost her appeal against being forced to work on Sundays.

Celestina Mba was working at Brightwell Children's Home for three years and had never worked a Sunday because her employers accommodated her beliefs. When her employers changed their policy, Mrs Mba attempted to reach a compromise by offering to work night or Saturday shifts, or accepting less pay, but they insisted she work on Sunday.

Mrs Mba has been told by an Employment Appeals Tribunal that her employer was justified in not accommodating her Christian observance of Sunday.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal held that Sunday was not a ‘core’ component of the Christian faith because some Christians would be prepared to work on a Sunday, and thus Christians as a whole do not need Sunday protected. Read more

How NOT to Read Your Bible in 2013



When it comes to daily (or not-so-daily) Bible reading, January 1 can be a welcome arrival. A new year signals a new start. You're motivated to freshly commit to what you know is of indispensable importance: the Word of God.

Yet this isn't the first time you've felt this way. You were entertaining pretty similar thoughts 365 days ago. And 365 days before that. And 365 days . . . you know how it goes.

So what's going to make 2013 different? What, under God, will keep you plodding along in April this year when staying power has generally vanished in Aprils of yore? From one stumbling pilgrim to another, here are five suggestions for what not to do in 2013. Read more

Read also:
Reading the Bible in 2013 (Justin Taylor Between Two Worlds)
A free Bible on your phone, tablet, and computer (YouVersion) - Click "Subscribe to Bible Plans"
Bible Reading Plans for 2013 (Ligonier Ministries)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ten Common Things Church Members Communicate to Pastors



Pastors are like information sponges. If they aren’t studying, they are receiving a regular deluge of information from church members. I asked twenty-two pastors to share with me the most common items they hear from their church members. In the past, this information came in the form of letters, in-person conversations, and telephone calls. The digital age has made emails, texts, and social media more common.

Eleven of the pastors were above the age of forty, so an equal number were under forty years old. Here are their top ten responses in order of frequency. Each response is followed by a quote from a representative pastor in the interview. Read more

Confidential plan to sell Anglican churches



MORE than half of Newcastle’s Anglican churches could be sold off for commercial or residential development under a radical proposal to make over the Diocese.

A confidential draft report obtained by the Newcastle Herald reveals the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle could make nine of its 15 Newcastle and Newcastle West churches ‘‘redundant’’ as part of a future growth strategy.

Problems detailed in the report include falling congregation numbers, maintenance problems, lack of financial contributions, no on-site parking, fire risk issues and disconnect with community.

Four of the churches being considered for sale are heritage listed. Read more

Good news from Pembrokeshire



A remarkable thing has happened in Pembrokeshire since the summer. Since 1983, Rev John D Welsby and other members of the Emmanuel Christian Centre in Haverfordwest have been faithfully going out to the local estates twice a year to knock on doors and invite residents to the church’s events. Nearly thirty years later, their efforts are starting to reap a wonderful harvest in a place they never expected - among the traveller community.

The church backs onto one housing estate in particular, where travellers have in recent years decided to permanently settle.

For many years now, the travellers have attended the church’s annual summer barbecue but something changed this year when the church was invited to host a three night mission in June. God did a work in the hearts of the travellers, and they’ve been coming ever since. Read more

Egyptian Christians Face the Future Under New Islamist Law


What way forward under the hastily passed, shari'ah-based constitution?


Egyptian Christians spent this year's Advent season awaiting more than the celebration of Jesus' birth. Christmas Day dawned with Copts still processing the rushed passage of a new Islamist-backed constitution and its implications.

Days before voting began on the hastily completed charter—which, despite only 33 percent turnout and accusations of fraud, passedDecember 25 with 64 percent of the vote—more than 10,000 Christians gathered at an interdenominational prayer vigil in Cairo's famous "Cave Church."

"Some of us see demonstrations and conspiracies. Some say this country is being destroyed or being stolen," said Andrawus Iskander, a Coptic Orthodox priest from the Nile Delta, to the gathered crowd. "But I say God is coming, and he will not be late. This year will be the best ever for the church. The heavens will open and we will be united. We will be freed from fear and learn to love."

But many Christians fear the worst. Read more

Wanted: Believing Bishops for the Salvation of the Nation

The other day (as you do) I wandered over to the ‘Thinking Anglicans’ website to see what Anglicans were thinking about. Apparently it is women bishops and same-sex marriage (or for tweeters out there #WomenBishops and #gaymarriage).
Actually, you might well get the same impression reading this blog, though in fairness to myself I would point out that when I try posting on other topics the rate of hits goes down and vice versa (on the day of the women bishops vote, there were over eight hundred hits before I even posted anything), so perhaps the problem is also the readership.
But what should Anglicans be thinking about? Or to what will their thoughts turn when we have bishops who are women (and same-sex marriages at least in some denominations)? Read more

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Feeling Blue?


Following the interest in yesterday's posting on the preaching question, and in preparation for more detailed work to be done in the future, here is a initial contribution from guest blogger, Peter Bolt.

With three short e-books downloadable from Christmas Day, Zondervan has released a new series, ‘Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry’. Well, even the authors admit there is nothing really fresh here, but ‘Regifted Perspectives …’.

Since these three booklets have been released in the public sphere, they deserve the more considered critique which will follow in kind, that is, in the same public sphere in which any proper discussion of ideas must take place. However, since discussion has already begun in the subterranean depths of the online realms, and since two of the three e-authors who have come up for air in this series, John Dickson and Michael Bird, are my fellow Aussies with whom I share no little history, some interim and quick responses may be appropriate in these dark realms as well! My thanks go to Mark for allowing me several pieces of his blog-time across the next little while.

Each of these pamphlets seek to entangle their readers in what has been identified as a ‘Shift Story’. Read more

Friday, December 28, 2012

Small Group Show: 5 Top Tips to Starting the New Year Right

Join Steve Gladen, Brett Eastman, Mark Howell, and Allen White as they talk to small group ministry leaders about five ways to go into 2013 strong. They’ll discuss how to disciple people, grow more groups, and have a healthier church.

Watch Now

Texas Supreme Court to Decide Property Dispute Between Episcopal Church, Breakaway Diocese


The Texas Supreme Court will determine whether or not a diocese that broke away from The Episcopal Church four years ago holds the right to the 52 church properties in its territory.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, led by conservative bishop Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker, appealed a lower court decision giving them 30 days to give the disputed property to The Episcopal Church.

Arguments for the case were heard in October and presently both the departed diocese and its continuing Episcopal counterpart await the court's decision. Read more

Gun Control Is Not the Answer

In response to the horrific reality of the recent school shooting in Connecticut there seems to be a growing sentiment toward stricter gun control laws in America. Most reporters, many Senators and, even the President himself, are talking about the issue of gun control like it is the answer to the problem of violence in America.

It is not.

It may be an answer but it is not the answer. Preventing mentally unstable people from having easy access to automatic weapons may be part of an overall solution, but it is not the ultimate solution. With over 200 million privately held guns in America, it cannot possibly be THE solution. Read more

Read also
Newspaper Accused of 'Going Too Far' in Publishing Names of Gun Owners

The Queen speaks – does Britain hear?

Portrait of The Queen, taken in 2002
© John Swannell/Camera Press
It is significant that the Queen has used her Christmas broadcast again to call the nation to faith in Christ

For the second year running, Her Majesty the Queen has delivered a Christmas broadcast to the nation which is startling in the clarity of its call to faith in Jesus Christ.

Not that you might have realised this if you missed the speech and were relying only on much of the secular media. The Guardian reported that she “drew on the ‘humbling’ experience of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the inspiration of the Olympics and Paralympics to highlight a momentous year for Britain” – adding somewhat cryptically that she “made no mention of the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy”. The Daily Telegraph said that the Queen “used her Christmas broadcast to thank people around the world for the outpouring of affection and enthusiasm shown during her Diamond Jubilee celebrations”. The BBC News website reported that she “praised the ‘army of volunteers’ at the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympic Games”.

All well and good – and accurate, up to a point. But of course what most secular news outlets failed to report was the Queen’s explicit call for people to respond directly to Christ: “This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son ‘to serve, not to be served’. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ ... The carol, ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’, ends by asking a question of all of us who know the Christmas story, of how God gave himself to us in humble service: ‘What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part’.” She continued: “The carol gives the answer ‘Yet what I can I give him - give my heart’.” Read more

View the video:
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2012

Read the text:
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2012

Christianity could be ‘wiped out’ in Middle East


Westminster think tank Civitas is warning that Christianity is in serious danger of being wiped out in its biblical heartlands.

Christians living in the region where the faith was born are coming under increasing threat from Islamic oppression, the think tank says in a new report.

Civitas says Western politicians and media are ignoring the widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the wider world because they are afraid they will be accused of racism.

The report, Christianophobia, says that Christians are more likely to be the target of discrimination or persecution that any other religious group and warns that they are particularly at risk in Muslim-dominated societies.

The difficulties have been made worse by anti-Americanism and the false belief that Christianity is a “Western” creed, despite having its origins in the Middle East. Read more

Books: Why 'Mere Christianity' Should Have Bombed


Knowing why it didn't can help us strengthen our witness today.

Sixty years ago, London publisher Geoffrey Bles first released a revision of three sets of radio talks by an Oxford literature don. The book was called Mere Christianity, and there was nothing "mere" about it. A somewhat disjointed set of C. S. Lewis's views on a wide range of theological, philosophical, and ethical matters, the book became the most important and effective defense of the Christian faith in its century.

As Mere Christianity (henceforth "MC") goes into its seventh decade of publishing success, rivaled still by no other apologetic, it's worth taking a look at its unlikely success. Read more

Read also:
Why C.S. Lewis Didn't Write for Christianity Today

Theological Theology: The Preaching Question



There has, it seems, been quite a flurry of publishing activity on the question of preaching lately, especially by those seeking to make a case for the propriety of women preaching to mixed congregations. I have not read all of it, but I have certainly worked carefully through some of it and I have to say that it is quite unconvincing, despite the hype the authors and their friends have tried to generate surrounding the release of this material.

In what I've read, the exegetical work done on 1 Timothy 2 and other key passages, does not, in the end, allow the text to stand on its own terms, sometimes imposing a historical reconstruction of one kind or another (including a seriously reductionist account of what is meant by 'teaching'). The employment of larger theological categories sometimes fails to take into account very significant discussions about these terms and concepts in almost two thousand years of Christian theology. At the point of application further difficulties emerge, most commonly with attempts to distance today's practice from that of the churches of the New Testament (very obviously some things have changed but that does not mean that in principle the activities are necessarily different, that must be established not just asserted).

It is important that we keep testing our conclusions both on theology and practice by the teaching of the Bible. I am always willing to read more or read again, aware that I can too easily allow my own conclusions to ride roughshod over the text of Scripture. I need the challenge of those who think differently to expose my blind spots as I read the Bible. My culture, whether in the larger sense of Western culture or the more narrow sense of my own ecclesiastical or theological culture, always has the potential at least of being a distorting lens. The proper posture before Scripture is that of one willing to be taught, reproved, corrected and trained in righteousness. So, in one sense, I'm glad of the challenge these recently published pieces present to me. Read more

Reading the Bible in 2013



As he has done in previous years, Justin Taylor has posted links to resources to help us, and our congregations, read the Bible consistently. (As well there are reading plans available from YouVersion.)

Of course, you don’t have to read the Bible on an electronic device – these plans can be used in conjunction with a printed Bible too!

Read also:
Bible Reading Plans for 2013 (Ligonier Ministries)
New digital Bible library
Originally posted on the Anglican Church League website 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Amen



And all the people said… “Amen!” The “amen corner” has had an important place in the life of the church throughout the ages. However, it is rare to find such a spot among Presbyterians. We are known as God’s frozen chosen for a reason. It has been said that the Methodists like to shout “Fire,” the Baptists like to shout “Water,” and the Presbyterians like to softly say, “Order, order.” Nevertheless, in spite of the idiosyncrasies of various ecclesiastical persuasions, the function of the word amen far transcends denominational usages in the modern era.

The term amen was used in the corporate worship of ancient Israel in two distinct ways. It served first as a response to praise given to God and second as a response to prayer. Those same usages of the term are still in vogue among Christians. The term itself is rooted in a Semitic word that means “truth,” and the utterance of “amen” is an acknowledgment that the word that has been heard, whether a word of praise, a word of prayer, or a sermonic exhortation, is valid, that is, sure and binding. Even in antiquity, the word amen was used in order to express a pledge to fulfill the terms of a vow. So, this little word is one that is centered on the idea of the truth of God. Read more

How to Plan Your Preaching for 2013


The new year is right around the corner, have you planned your preaching schedule for 2013 yet? Here are some tips to help you plan for your preaching for all of next year.... Read more

'Militant Islam' Greatest Threat to Middle Eastern Christianity, Says Think Tank


A British think tank has released a lengthy report claiming that militant Islam is the greatest existential threat to Middle Eastern Christianity, bringing Christian communities in the region "close to extinction."

The London-based Civitas, also known as the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, published the report in December. "Christianity is in serious danger of being wiped out in its biblical heartlands because of Islamic oppression," reads a statement from the group issued Sunday.

"But Western politicians and media largely ignore the widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the wider world because they are afraid they will be accused of racism."

Titled "Christianophobia" and written by reporter and Religion Editor for The Times Literary Supplement Rupert Shortt, the report details the persecution of Christians in Burma, China, Egypt, India, Iraq, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Read more

Planting Churches in America's 'Celebrity Pastor' Culture


Many Americans clamor for celebrities....not only in Hollywood, but even in churches. This creates both a challenge and an opportunity for churches today. The challenge in our "celebrity pastor" culture is to joyfully embrace the need to send out more and more disciples to plant new churches. The opportunity is actually identical to the challenge. It is the incredible privilege to turn attenders and members into church planters.

Why church planting? Because it is God's method for reaching the lost and making disciples....and it is God's method for taking your discipleship to the next level. There is a tremendous amount of spiritual warfare that goes on with church planting. Satan hates to see Spirit-filled believers plant new congregations, and so he works very hard to discourage, distract, and divide any group of disciples who pursue this task to the glory of God.

All Christians encounter some spiritual resistance when attending worship services and participating in a small group....but when a group of believers are sent out to start a new church, watch out! They better be "prayed up," and geared up for the long haul. It will be unlike anything they have encountered in their Christian life, and it will stretch their faith like never before. Read more

Youcef Nadarkhani Re-Arrested by Iranian Authorities on Christmas Day


Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was taken back to prison on Christmas Day allegedly because of improperly completed paperwork, multiple sources have said, denying him the chance to celebrate the birth of Christ at home with his family.

Persecution watchdog groups Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Present Truth Ministries both reported the news, saying that pastor Nadarkhani has had to go back to Lakan Prison in Rasht to serve the remainder of his time in prison, another 40 days, and to complete paperwork that authorities say he had not filled out. Read more

Building a Battle-Ready Team

Three questions to determine whether someone is a good team player.



About 10 years ago, my wife and I pulled into a busy Wal-Mart parking lot to grab a few things for the casa. That's Spanish for house or light chicken gravy. I'm not sure which one.

As I got out of my car, I heard a woman crying for help. I looked around and, at the far end of the parking lot, spotted a man standing over a woman. He was holding her shirt with one hand and slapping her in the face with the other.

I had to figure out what to do, and quickly. So I started walking toward the couple, tentatively at first. As I did, I was relieved to see several other men behind me begin to move toward the assailant. Like an impromptu League of Justice, we began to run towards the damsel in distress, with me leading the way.

As I got closer, the man turned his attention to me. He was a decent sized guy, but I was bigger and, of course, my Robins, Tontos, and other side-kicks were right behind me! And so in the heat of the moment, I said the only thing I could remember from movies when a hero stops a man from hitting a lady: "Why don't you try that on someone your own size?!"

He turned and ran. I didn't take chase. My sprint across the parking lot was about all I could handle. Besides, if I ran any farther, I would have needed a Gatorade and a doughnut.

So with victory secured, I turned to high-five my fellow action heroes, but they were not there. They had never been there. My wife said that the other guys took a step or two, but when they saw me start to run, they just stopped to watch the show.

Lucky for me, the assailant bought the tough guy vibe. In no time, a few people who knew the lady ran over to help her and explained that the man was her husband. My wife and I went into the store to shop. As my adrenaline surge faded, I began to feel a little miffed at the guys who didn't come to help. I even passed a few and gave them "a look." It was just a two second glance but it spoke volumes. It said, "Hey man, you should have backed me up because that's what guys do." They all looked down, so I know they got the message.

We all knew what needed to be done. But I'd been left to do it alone. Read more


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sight, Place, and the Presence of God


A great debate and controversy over what is proper worship before God is going on in our time. As I have wrestled with this question, I keep going back to the Old Testament. I know this is a dangerous practice because we now live in the New Testament era, but the Old Testament gives detailed, explicit instructions for worship, whereas the New Testament is almost silent on the conduct of worship. In the Old Testament, I find a refuge from speculation, from human opinion, and from the vagaries of human taste and preference because there I find God Himself explicitly demanding that certain things take place in worship. I believe it is both possible and right to mine principles for worship from the Old Testament, for the Old Testament books remain part of the canon of Scripture, and while there is a certain discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, there is also a continuity that we must not discount.

One of the principles I learn from the Old Testament is this: the whole person is to be engaged in the experience of worship. Certainly, the minds, hearts, and souls of the worshipers are to be engaged, but when we come to worship on Sunday morning, we do not come as disembodied minds, hearts, or souls. None of our experiences are purely intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. The experience of human life also involves physical aspects. This means that all five senses are involved in the experience of living. We are creatures who live life not merely with our minds, hearts, and souls, but with our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Read more

Seven Lessons on Leadership I Learned from My Garbage Service



It may be strange to hear, but I absolutely love my residential garbage service. When I moved to Nashville over seven years ago, I asked my neighbors to recommend a service. Their recommendations were so effusive that you might have thought they were talking about a beloved physician.

Nope. They were excited about their garbage service. And now, seven years later I understand fully. This family-owned company is called Music City Disposal. It’s located in Franklin, Tennessee, a southern suburb of Nashville.

The first time I called Music City Disposal to begin my service, the wife of the owner greeted me. Her pleasant disposition was but a foretaste to the great service I would receive over the next seven years. Indeed, the workers in this small company have taught me several lessons on leadership. I’ll share a few. Read more

Islamist Gunmen Kill 12 Nigerian Christians in Christmas Eve Attacks


Nigerian gunmen have killed at least 12 Christians, including a pastor, during raids on two churches after midnight Christmas Eve services in the latest attack on believers in the divided African country.

Police reports reveal that one of the attacks occurred at the Church of Christ in Nations in the state of Yobe at Peri village near the city of Potiskum. Another happened at First Baptist Church in Maiduguri, in Borno state, where a deacon and five church members were killed, CNN reported.

While no group has yet officially claimed responsibility for the attacks, the BBC and other sources note that the attackers were likely Islamist extremists from the Boko Haram terrorist organization, which has killed over 700 Christians and burned down dozens of churches in Nigeria this past year alone. Read more

Global Gospel Project: Three Is the Loveliest Number



Why 'that Trinity stuff' is not a philosophical headache but a captivating picture of the Good and Beautiful.

There is something irresistible about overhearing your name being whispered in a private conversation. Usually (of course) I try to stop my ears, but once I could not help taking in this little snippet, which has tickled me ever since:

"Yes, well, Reeves does love that Trinity stuff." (Picture eyes being rolled.)

It was the way this Christian man put it that fascinated me: not "Reeves does love God," but "Reeves does love that Trinity stuff." His choice of words seemed to sum up perfectly a common perception: that there is the God we know and love—and then, in some mental ivory tower far, far away, there is that Trinity stuff.

That mathematical mystery. That mind-bending oddity. That strange, even embarrassing idea. Yes, deep within the Christian psyche today seems to be the notion that the Trinity is an awkward and odd irrelevance, an unsightly wart on our knowledge of the true God. And so, when it comes to sharing our faith, we speak of God's offer of salvation, we speak of God's free grace, but we try not to let on that the God we are speaking of is a Trinity. We wax lyrical about the beauty of the gospel, but not so much about the beauty of the God whose gospel it is.

It is time to stand up and say, "No!" to such nonsense, to turn our backs on the absurd notion that our beautiful gospel could ever come from a God who is not the very perfection and essence of beauty. For the health of the church and our faith, we must be proud of who our God is. And since the Trinity is no mere theological icing resting atop our God—since the living God is Trinity—we must be resolutely and thoroughly Trinitarian in all our ways and thoughts.

Only then will we truly enjoy what sets the living God apart from the gods of human imagination. Only then will we know a God good enough to offer truly good news. And this, in fact, is the nature of the very eternal life for which we have been saved: knowing God. As Jesus prayed, "[T]his is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3). Read more

Books: How the Early Church Made Peace with Prosperity


By the sixth century, the church was wealthy and full of wealthy people. How did the rich get their loads through the eye of the needle into the kingdom of heaven? How, in other words, did an institution pledged to recognize the blessedness of the poor gradually reconcile itself to unprecedented wealth? Peter Brown's latest, very substantial, book, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (Princeton University Press) gives a deliriously complicated answer.

Brown follows the money from Rome to Milan, to North Africa, to Gaul. He takes the measure of superrich pagans like Symmachus, as well as Christian leaders who wrote about riches, like Ambrose, Augustine, Paulinus, Priscillian, Popes Damasus and Gelasius, Jerome, John Cassian, and Salvian. As usual, Brown leaves no stone unturned in his search for insight and evidence. He examines texts, of course, but he pays close attention to architecture and archeology and late Roman art. He paints a colorful social setting for early church debates about theology and ethics without becoming reductively sociological, and often overturns accepted mytho-history in the process. He quietly draws on contemporary theory but typically lets ancients speak for themselves because his aim is to introduce us to an exotic world. Through it all, he focuses the masses of details by treating attitudes, beliefs, and practices about wealth as a "stethoscope" to hear the heartbeat of late Roman and early Christian civilization. In a brief review, I can do more than hit some highlights. Read more

Gun enthusiasts pack shows to buy assault weapons



Gun enthusiasts thronged to shows around the country on Saturday to buy assault weapons they fear will soon be outlawed after a massacre of school children in Connecticut prompted calls for tighter controls on firearms.

Reuters reporters went to gun shows in Pennsylvania, Missouri and Texas, and found long lines to get in the door, crowds around the dealer booths, a rush to buy assault weapons even at higher prices and some dealers selling out.

The busiest table at the R.K. Gun & Knife show at an exposition center near the Kansas City, Missouri airport was offering assault weapons near the entrance. Read more
A surge in the purchase of assault weapons followed the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. This typically happens when gun control advocates call for stricter regulation of assault weapons. The AR 15 Assault Rifle is not the only assault weapon available in the United States. AK 47s and Uzis are sold on the black market and are fully automatic. Tighter regulation will limit only the legal purchase of semi-automatic weapons by gun enthusiasts. It will not prevent criminals and terrorists from obtaining deadlier weapons. It will not put a stop to tragedies like the Sandy Hook massacre.

Egypt constitution passes, economic crunch looms


The official approval of Egypt's disputed, Islamist-backed constitution Tuesday held out little hope of stabilizing the country after two years of turmoil and Islamist President Mohammed Morsi may now face a more immediate crisis with the economy falling deeper into distress.

In a clear sign of anxiety over the economy, the turbulence of the past month and expected austerity measures ahead have some Egyptians hoarding dollars for fear the currency is about to take a significant turn for the weaker.

The battle over the constitution left Egypt deeply polarized at a time when the government is increasingly cash-strapped. Supporters of the charter campaigned for it on the grounds that it will lead to stability, improve the grip of Morsi and his allies on state institutions, restore investor confidence and bring back tourists. Read more

Read also:
Egypt at crossroads: Endorsement of draft Constitution won’t heal political divide
Egypt’s New Constitution: How it Differs from Old Version

Link between pot, psychosis goes both ways in kids

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Marijuana (cannabis) use may be linked to the development of psychotic symptoms in teens - but the reverse could also be true: psychosis in adolescents may be linked to later pot use, according to a new Dutch study.

"We have focused mainly on temporal order; is it the chicken or the egg? As the study shows, it is a bidirectional relationship," wrote the study's lead author Merel Griffith-Lendering, a doctoral candidate at Leiden University in The Netherlands, in an email to Reuters Health.

Previous research established links between marijuana and psychosis, but scientists questioned whether pot use increased the risk of mental illness, or whether people were using pot to ease their psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions. Read more

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Christmas Paradox: Wholly Natural and Supernatural

Other than through the original Christmas event, no religious teaching crosses this seemingly definitive division – the marked chasm between the natural and the supernatural. The Hindu "avatars" are claimed as brief appearances of the divine, but all the avatars insist that they are not in real human flesh. Islam directly denies that anyone can be both God and human. In Quran 5:17, the very belief that Mary's first son is also divine is definitive of infidelity against Allah, a capital offense! Taoism focuses on nature, and denies the supernatural altogether. Buddhism, Confucianism and secular humanism generally seek to avoid any serious consideration of our Creator anyway – since God does not play a significant role in their beliefs – so they ignore this marked chasm between the supernatural and natural, too.

Only through the Bible do we learn of the One who is all human and all divine – fully natural and fully supernatural – all at the same time, all the time, by God's awesome, amazing grace, poured into the Christmas event. To us finite and flawed humans, for anyone to claim to be fully human and fully divine may seem blatantly contradictory. Still, from the Biblical record this momentous, paradoxical Christmas episode of the divine-human Savior is truly prophesied and fully produced. Consequently, it is in this awesome event, at the first Christmas, that we see revealed the core truths of all of life. For starters, the Holy Spirit created a new human life in the virgin womb of Mary – the same Spirit whom our Creator chose to breathe into his shaped hunk of dirt-clay to create his first human being many, many years ago. Read more

Lee Strobel: Making the Case for Christmas


While still an atheist and crime reporter for The Chicago Tribune, Christian apologist and best-selling author Lee Strobel says a story he covered decades ago about a "poverty-wracked" family and how they showed him the true meaning of Christmas through their actions still resonates with him. Strobel gave The Christian Post an exclusive on his "Making the Case for Christmas" story.

More than 14 years ago, Strobel authored The Case for Christ, a book about how as an atheist he first set out to disprove the existence of Jesus only to find irrefutable evidence for the Son of God. He then became a Christian. His Christian wife, Leslie, had been praying for his salvation all the while.

In writing about the Delgados – 60-year-old Perfecta and her granddaughters Lydia and Jenny – Strobel tells about having a yearning "to know Jesus" during his experience.

"To her, this child in the manger was the undeserved gift that meant everything – more than material possessions, more than comfort, more than security. And at that moment, something inside of me wanted desperately to know this Jesus – because, in a sense, I saw him in Perfecta and her granddaughters."

He writes about how the Delgados "sacrificially reached out to their neighbors with a tangible expression of Christ's love."

Strobel's exclusive for CP below.... Read more

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Glory of Christmas



On the night Jesus was born something spectacular took place. The plains of Bethlehem became the theater for one of the most spectacular sound-and-light shows in human history. All heaven broke loose.
Luke tells us what happened:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)

The angelic visitor was surrounded by the glory of God. The glory was shining. This glory did not belong to the angel himself. It was God’s glory, signifying His divine mode of being. It was the divine splendor that shrouded the heavenly messenger, a visible divine radiance. Read more

From the Pen of J. C. Ryle: Formal Religion



"Having a form of godliness — but denying the power thereof." 2 Timothy 3:5

"A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." Romans 2:28-29

READER, The texts which head this page deserves your serious attention at any time. I take it for granted that you have some religion. You are not an infidel. You profess and call yourself a Christian. Well, is your Christianity formal — or spiritual? Is religion with you a matter of form — or a matter of the heart? Is it form — or heart?

The question deserves especial notice in this age of the church and world. Never since the Lord Jesus Christ left the earth, was there so much formality and false profession, as there is at the present day. Now, if ever, we ought to examine ourselves, and search our religion, that we may know of what sort it is. Reader, let us find out whether our Christianity is a thing of form — or a thing of heart.

I know no better way of unfolding the subject than by turning to a plain passage of the Word of God. Let us hear what the apostle Paul says about it. He lays down the following great principles in his Epistle to the Romans: "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." Three most instructive lessons appear to me to stand out on the face of that passage. Let us see what they are.

I. We learn, firstly, that formal religion is not true religion; and a formal Christian is not a true Christian in God's sight.

II. We learn, secondly, that the heart is the seat of true religion, and that the true Christian is the Christian in heart.

III. We learn, thirdly, that true religion must never expect to be popular. It will not have the "praise of man — but of God."

Let us thoroughly consider these great principles. Two hundred years have passed away since a mighty Puritan divine said, "Formality, formality, formality, is the great sin of England at this day, under which the land groans. There is more light than there was — but less life; more shadow — but less substance; more profession — but less holiness." (Thomas Hall, 1658). What would this good man have said if he had lived in our times? Read more

Seven Christmas Things to Do with Your Kids


Families have lots of different Christmas traditions, and these are good things to have. They help the family establish a rhythm and build memories together. As you spend time with your kids this Christmas, realize that more important than the toys will be the experiences. More memorable than the gifts will be the time you share with your kids. And because many parents have some extra days off work around Christmas, it is a great season to spend time with and pour memories into your kids.

Over the last two years, we have found several activities we enjoy with our kids and this Christmas will be no exception. Here are a few you may want to consider.... Read more

Read also:
5 Ways to Play With Your Kids This Christmas

Cannabis makes pain more bearable instead of reducing it, say scientists

Photo: United States Fish and Wildlife Service
Cannabis can make patients feel less bothered about pain, according to a study.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have found the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis doesn't reduce the intensity of pain, rather it makes it more bearable.

Brain scans revealed the ingredient known as THC, reduced activity in areas linked to the emotional aspects of suffering. Read more

Egyptian judges review ballot on divisive constitution



Egyptian judges were investigating opposition accusations of voting irregularities on Monday before declaring the result of a referendum set to show that a contentious new constitution has been approved.

President Mohamed Mursi sees the basic law, drawn up mostly by Islamists, as a vital step in Egypt's transition to democracy almost two years after the fall of military-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak.

The opposition, a loose alliance of liberals, moderate Muslims and Christians, says the document is too Islamist, ignores the rights of minorities and represents a recipe for more trouble in the Arab world's most populous nation.

Critics have also said the vote, conducted over two stages in a process that ended on Saturday, was marred by a litany of irregularities, and have demanded a full inquiry.

"The committee is currently compiling results from the first and second phase and votes from Egyptians abroad, and is investigating complaints," Judge Mahmoud Abu Shousha, a member of the committee, told Reuters.

He said no time had been set for an announcement of the final outcome, but it appeared unlikely to be on Monday. Read more

Rimsha Masih asks for prayers for blasphemy victims



"I ask Catholics, the West, the international community to help all Christians in prison, victims of the blasphemy laws." According to AsiaNews that was the appeal of Rimsha Masih, a Christian teen suffering from mental problems who was arrested last August for blasphemy, and then cleared.

For weeks, her story occupied Pakistani newspapers and world media, motivating worldwide appeals for action.

Asia News said as a result of the work of the Federal Minister Paul Bhatti, supported by the Muslim community and the government in Islamabad, the story - for the first time - has resulted in a positive outcome.

A few days before the holidays, Asia News reported, Rimsha and family wanted to send "greetings to Pope Benedict XVI and all Christians of the world".

In a plea addressed to all Christians, the West and the international community, Rimsha said, "I ask you to support and assist all Christians ... who are in prison because of the blasphemy laws ... be close to them."
Rimsha said that after a difficult period she is now happy. "This Christmas I thank God for saving me and Jesus Christ for helping me."

She added that wish is to "be able to return to school." Read more

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Pound for Pound Church



Greatness must involve victory over quality opposition or against significant odds.

In the boxing world I have just described Manny Pacquiao. He has been appropriately labeled by fans of the sport, bloggers, sportswriters, and fellow boxers as the best “pound for pound” fighter in the modern era. In other words, as a boxer who has won titles in eight lighter weight divisions, he is never going to fight for the “heavyweight” championship of the world. That’s because he is five feet six inches and weighs in at a hundred and fifty pounds all wet in his street clothes. He is not going to be remembered like a Muhammad Ali because his greatness in the sport is measured in different dimensions. These include: how many weight divisions he has won, the quality of his opponents, and his skills in the ring. Add to these: hand speed, punching power, and work rate. In this way, a “pound for pound” fighter designation gives you the greater measure of the boxer.

As pastors and members we easily confuse the measure of greatness in the local church. We all know and admire the heavyweights whose numbers are the size of small to medium size cities (I should know because I am in one of those churches). But over the years my senior pastor has taught me not to elevate numbers beyond other dimensions of measurement God considers more important. He knows and I know that numbers are not synonymous with church health, depth in disciple making, or God’s justice being delivered locally through our efforts. Those categories often lag far behind charismatic preaching and a robust weekend attendance.

My point? God weighs churches pound for pound not seat for seat. Read more

Showing Up



Sometimes I ‘m not sure members of our congregations understand how difficult Christmas can be for pastors and staffs of churches. Not only do we have to deal with the holiday craziness in our families (buying presents, dealing with travel logistics, etc.), we usually add more services during the Christmas season. That means we have to be at church a lot more nights than we normally do.

Add to that the unique pressures the holidays bring to the families of our churches – everything from college kids who are coming home to having to see relatives we’ve tried to avoid the rest of the year. That usually means a couple of emergency “counseling sessions” to help our friends get through the holidays without committing a felony while their family is in town.

But there’s another pressure that rarely gets mentioned. Pastors won’t even mention it to their spouses or closest friends. Can you guess what it is? For some reason, the holidays are the time when we evaluate our ministries and lives. Maybe it’s because the winter days get darker faster or maybe the end of the year is just a natural time to think about such things. And honestly, this is a hard process for most of us. Read more

Muslim Leaders in UK Demand Exemption From Performing Gay Marriages


Islamic leaders are calling Great Britain's same-sex marriage legislation "discriminatory," as the government has proposed exempting the Church of England and the Church in Wales from performing such unions, while neglecting to provide the same exemption to other religious institutions equally opposed to gay marriage.

"No one in their right mind should accept such a discriminatory law," the Muslim Council of Britain's secretary-general Farooq Murad said in a statement Tuesday, as reported by BBC News.

"It should be amended to give exactly the same exemption to all the religions," Farooq said, adding that his organization, which represents 500 mosques and community groups, strongly opposes these recent proposals. Read more

NT Wright Wrong About Eternal Torment?

The last thing any of us want to think about is eternal torment. And yet there we find it....smack dab in the middle of God's Word, and regularly mentioned by the very One who suffered on the cross for our sins. As much as we would like to ignore it completely....or pretend it doesn't exist....we find ourselves compelled to honestly accept everything God has placed in His Word....even when it has such extreme consequences.

Nothing could be further from our natural way of thinking than the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell....and the Son of God suffering on a cross....and a land of inexpressible joy as the alternative to eternal torment. Who could come up with this stuff? That is, if it wasn't true.

Oh wait. I forgot. God and his eternal declarations will only be fulfilled if we understand them....and if we give the go ahead....and if we find them acceptable. It all boils down to our approval, right? We are the masters of the universe....and the ones who get to call the shots on eternity. Yea right.

Speaking of "right," N.T. Wright was an Anglican bishop in the Church of England from 2003 until his retirement in 2010. In recent years, he has written some questionable opinions and made some provocative statements concerning heaven and hell. Wright is very direct when talking about the resurrection of the body....especially for those who will spend all of eternity with Christ. But he becomes quite vague when asked about hell. He tends to view hell more as a "progressive shrinking of human life" in this world, rather than as a literal "lake of fire" in the next world. (see Rev. 20:14,15) Read more

Dispatch from the End of the World


Trying to minister amid the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque.

People have been pouring into the ancient Mayan empire in southern Mexico. Flying into Cancun on the 10th of December, Shlomy Goldman and I started our trek south to the Palenque ruins. We've met Germans, British, Czech, Argentinians, Israelis and all variety of peoples from around the globe pilgrimmaging tothe "end of the Mayan calendar." All of southern Mexico has become a site of concerts, festivals, and conferences formed around the 12/21 date, which is the supposed end of the calendar, and (some people surmised) of the World. At the very least it is considered a critical transformational date by advocates of the New Age Movement.

Our journey brought us to the End of the World Rainbow Gathering situated in a jungle palm grove 12 kilometers outside of town. The Rainbow Gatherings are hippie camping events, which have been happening worldwide since 1972. Permanent nomadic travelers, homeless, and part time hippies converged on the grove. When we first arrived, the gathering had already grown to almost 500 and in a few days has risen to at least 3,000.

I volunteered to organize building makeshift showers for the thousands who came to the grove. Michael from Greece came to help. He and I discussed why he was here. "It has been happening for a couple years now." he said. "People are coming to greater understanding. On the 21st I believe consciousness shall rise higher." Michael's evidence for this rising consciousness is the growth of organic farming and other types of "earth concern."

Dan from Scotland came to Mexico specifically for the Rainbow Gathering. "You know what I think is going to happen on the 21st?" Dan asked rhetorically. "Nothing."

Ben is concerned that something cataclysmic is going to happen. His head is filled with terrible images from a confused smattering of the sacred texts of many religions.

Our group is not the only spiritual teachers to invade the region while a mass of humanity has descended upon the former Mayan empire. Raja Merk Dove who calls himself a Senior Interplanetary Space Ambassador visited the Rainbow Gathering for a couple days on his tour around the region. A woman calling herself the Red Queen is arriving declaring a new age prophecy to unite the Northern Red City (Sedona, Arizona) with the Southern Red City (Palenque).

At the Rainbow Gathering, people have been emphasizing love and meditating in "Om circles." We are meeting people, talking with them about Jesus late into the night, and offering spiritual counsel during the day. Read more

Russell Moore: School shootings & spiritual warfare

The nation is watching, with horror and disgust, news reports out of Connecticut of a horrific act of violence against an elementary school filled with defenseless children.

While every act of murder ought to provoke outrage, there's something especially condemnable about the murder of children. I think there's a reason for that.

In the hours after the shooting, Jewish political and cultural commentator John Podhoretz called attention to a concept most Americans don't like to think about at Christmastime, if ever: hell.  Read more

Read also:
Not How, But Why to Talk to Your Kids about Newtown