Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Resurrection of Jesus – A Miracle in One of Three Ways

With Easter just around the corner, we all are reminded once again that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a miracle. No matter if you believe in God or not, no matter if you’re an atheist or a Christian, the account and effects of Jesus’ resurrection are truly miraculous. Read more

Of First Importance: The Cross and Resurrection at the Center

The Christian faith is not a mere collection of doctrines — a bag of truths. Christianity is a comprehensive truth claim that encompasses every aspect of revealed doctrine, but is centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, as the apostolic preaching makes clear, the gospel is the priority. Read more

North Korea declares ‘state of war’ with South

Announcement taken ‘seriously’ by US but no extra troop movements have been seen near border

North Korea on Saturday declared it had entered into a "state of war" with South Korea and warned Seoul and Washington that any provocation would swiftly escalate into an all-out nuclear conflict.

The United States said it took the announcement "seriously", even though it followed a familiar pattern, while South Korea largely dismissed it as an old threat dressed in new clothing.

It was the latest in a string of dire-sounding pronouncements from Pyongyang that have been matched by tough warnings from Seoul and Washington, fuelling international concern that the situation might spiral out of control.

"As of now, inter-Korea relations enter a state of war and all matters between the two Koreas will be handled according to wartime protocol," the North said in a government statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

"The long-standing situation of the Korean peninsula being neither at peace nor at war is finally over," the statement said, adding that any US or South Korean provocation would trigger a "full-scale conflict and a nuclear war".

The two Koreas have technically remained at war for the past six decades because the 1950-53 Korean War concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. Read more
Pray for the peoples of North Korea and South Korea and for peace on the Korean peninsula.

Ten Commandments for Guest-Friendly Church Members

I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in different churches. I have had a church consulting firm that did “guest” visits as part of our services. Sadly, many times I do not feel welcome as a guest when I visit churches.

The Bible is replete with admonitions of hospitality and servanthood. I just wish our church members understood that the servant-like spirit should also be manifest when we gather to worship. Guests are often uncomfortable, if not intimated, when they visit a church. We are to be gracious and sacrificial servants to them.

In response to this need for more guest-friendly church members, I have devised the ten greatest needs, at least from my perspective. I will reticently call them “commandments” and throw in a little King James English for effect. Read more

3 Vital Plans In Multiplying New Leaders

“We have a leadership deficit.”

Words many of us have spoken, and all of us have heard from others. We know how vital it is for every church to have and fill a solid leadership pipeline. But for many, some of the steps involved in that process seem overwhelming, and many don’t know where to start.

I’m a small town simple-minded pastor that has difficulty with complicated processes. So here is a simple pattern I’ve learned to get new potential leaders on your radar and start a process to move them through. Read more

The Brave New Facebook World

It is astonishing to think that, in less than 10 years, there are over 1 billion users of Facebook. This represents 1 in 7 people in the world. I am one of the many who enjoys the ‘interaction’ that Facebook allows. It is not for deep conversation, but I now have many shallow connections with people I would otherwise have no contact with. Letting people know about events and one’s own significant moments is facilitated. There are many benefits.

However, and particularly in more recent times, I have become more acutely aware of the dangers. Read more

5 Ways Your Small Group Ministry Is Being Throttled

Did you know that a number of factors can throttle your small group ministry? Did you know that there are certain factors that can limit your ministry impact? Read more

Big Theology for Little Kids

We go out of our way to answer kids' questions, no matter how silly. Last year, a British journalist got experts to respond to children's questions like "Can a bee sting a bee?" and "Why do I get hiccups?" and "If a cow didn't fart for a whole year and then did one big fart, would it fly into space?" in her book, Big Questions from Little People: and Simple Answers from Great Minds.

One of the most frequently asked questions, even in increasingly secular Britain, was "Who is God?" Kids are curious, and they want to know about big theological truths just as much as they want to know why blood is red or whether there are aliens in space.

When our kids ask a spiritual question, they deserve a substantive, truthful answer. Too often, though, we insist on feeding them theology we have first cut into bite-sized pieces: a simplified Bible story, a single Scripture verse, a personal testimony of our own experience. But children can, and should, learn large concepts, too—salvation, atonement, sanctification—words they will hear throughout their lives, and the ones for which they may someday have to make a defense. Read more

Friday, March 29, 2013

Expiation and Propitiation: Two Important Words This Good Friday

When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I’m often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don’t use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren’t sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words. Read more

Also read
Christ Forsaken

When Good Friday and Easter Become Personal

Jesus won't mean much to you until you are able to speak about Him in a personal way. It's one thing to say, "This is Easter weekend." It's another thing altogether to say, "Jesus died for me, and rose again for my eternal salvation." So are Good Friday and Easter personal for you, or not so much?

Good Friday doesn't become good for you until you understand it, and believe it, and allow your soul to find rest in it. Easter does nothing for you until you personally rise up in faith and leave the grave clothes of sin and death back in the tomb. When you get out of bed this Sunday, will it be the beginning of a new life for you? Or just the beginning of an ordinary day on an average weekend in March? It can become very personal for you if you want it to be.

Are Good Friday and Easter inside you yet, or are they just religious celebrations that show up on your calendar once a year? These events get inside you when you embrace them through faith. This miracle happens as you come to the cross and repent of your sin, and trust Christ to forgive you. That's how it gets inside you, and more importantly, how Jesus comes to live inside you. I would say that is pretty personal. Wouldn't you? Read more

How to Keep the 'Chreasters' Coming: Experts Say Preparedness and Follow-Up Are Key

Mars Hill Senior Pastor Mark Driscoll preaches to a crowd of over 17,500 people at the football stadium Qwest field in Seattle, Wash., on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011. (Photo: Mars Hill Church via The Christian Post)
While Churches Look to Make Converts for Christ on Easter Sunday, Many Fail to Make a Connection

As Christians gather this Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, many churches are pulling out elaborate props and Easter presentations in an effort to grow membership and make converts out of those "Chreasters," their friends, coworkers, family members and neighbors who attend service only on Christmas and Easter. But, according to experts, some congregations are woefully unprepared when it comes to connecting and keeping contact with their biannual guests.

Easter 2012 saw Pastor Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, use a live lion and a lamb on stage during his open-air Sunday service, which drew a bit of criticism from local animal rights activists. This year, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., plans to hold a record 42 services across his 14 campuses in four states and expects a huge number of converts to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

As an electrified Driscoll explains in a recent video announcement about Easter 2013, "Easter's coming. It's our biggest Sunday of the year! We get so excited for Easter Sunday. It's where we see the most people meet Jesus, the most people attend the church, the most people get baptized. So it is the day we are the most excited."

Yet the excitement surrounding Easter Sunday and the presentations and props used to help convey Christian beliefs about Jesus' resurrection often lose their "awesome" and "epic" flavor once the following Sunday rolls around. It is quite common, actually, for some pastors to find themselves wistfully watching the doors and hoping that at least one or two of the previous week's guests return with the intention of giving Jesus, or at least church, a try. Read more

Communication Strategy: I Blame Senior Pastors for Bad Church Signs

We’ve all seen them—bulletin bloopers and bad church signs. Both provide good fodder for blog consumption. My father is an expert on corny humor, and he has posted on his blog numerous examples of this vital genre of church literature.
  • When parking on the north side of the church, please remember to park on an angel.
  • Men’s prayer breakfast. No charge, but your damnation will be gratefully accepted.
  • The class on prophecy has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.
For the most part, these slips are forgivable offenses. They provoke nothing more than a few chuckles from the observant. But I believe they are indicators of a greater problem within churches: poor oversight of communication.

I blame senior church leaders for bad church signs and bulletin bloopers. Here’s why.... Read more

EASTER: Helping your child learn what it's all about

Our oldest son, Reed, started coming to the regular church service this year with my wife and me. As someone who works in children's ministry, I've always had strong beliefs about children's worship and certain opinions about how parents should help their kids get the most out of the service.

It was, however, quite scary when I faced the idea of taking my own child to worship.

At 5, Reed is an electronic guru. He's also an active kid, so I knew that keeping him engaged in the service would be hard. I determined that I didn't want to pacify him with my phone, so my wife Abbey and I decided that we'd have a few rules.... Read more

Also read
EASTER: Helping teens join the celebration

On gay marriage, don't follow the mob

"Lord, I will never deny you!"

As I reflect on these words Simon Peter spoke some 2,000 years ago, I am amazed that a man who attacked a squadron of soldiers could -- just moments later -- acquiesce to a midnight mob led by a servant girl.

The sociological phenomenon of the power of "groupthink" led Peter to deny His Savior. It also led the people of 1930s Germany to sacrifice the Jews and high school students in Steubenville, Ohio, to laugh as an unconscious teenage girl was publicly molested. And, sadly, in recent years, it has led many American Christians choosing to forsake God's perennial teaching on marriage. Read more

Also read
History, the Supreme Court; gay marriage
Redefine Marriage and You Redefine America
Social science struggles for data on effects of same-sex parenting on children

Vietnam: Church leader beaten to death

A Hmong church leader in Vietnam has been beaten to death in police custody, area sources said.

According to a story by Morning Star News, police beat Vam Ngaij Vaj around his neck and shoulders and probably electrically shocked him, resulting in his death on March 17. That's according to a church leader who spoke with those who viewed the battered corpse.

"They think he could have been electrocuted as well as beaten," said a Hmong Christian leader in Vietnam. Read more

Also read
Christian radio station looted in Central African Republic
Churches Ransacked as Rebels Take Over Central African Republic
Bible Burning Spreads to Another Former Soviet State
Secular Sweden Sees No Problem in Sending Christian Converts Back to Iran?
Call for end to church demolitions in Indonesia
Indonesian police demolish Christian church
Is Coptic Evangelism in Africa Really on the Rise?

TEC counterclaim filed in South Carolina case

Anglican Ink has posted a statement from diocese of South Carolina about the TEC counterclaim along with the TEC filings themselves.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Habit-Forming Worship

In most conversations about worship, an obstacle stands in the way of understanding: you. Whether you know it or not, intend it or not, you carry a deep well of ideas about what worship is, what it looks, sounds, and feels like. You've built this knowledge over the years and decades of your life, adding to it each time you've gathered with the church. One might say, "I don't really have a theology of worship," but in fact everyone does. That's because we are habit-formed people.

Notice I say "habit-formed" and not "habit-forming." We are formed by the habits in which we live.

Imagine that you'd never heard of softball. One day, someone at work invites you to go play the game with a group she gathers with weekly. You accept the invitation and go, excited to learn about this strange, unknown game.

You're taught the rules, and after a few Saturdays, you begin to actively participate and contribute to the game. Months go by, and one day someone new comes to the game. At first, he's excited to be playing. "I played softball for years back in Michigan," he says, but he's quickly troubled. On your team, the bases are run clockwise. You pitch the ball to yourself. And every home run is met with a rousing chorus of "God Save the Queen."

Things gets really difficult when your friend attempts to help you reform the game by the actual rules, and not the Marx Brothers-inspired farce in which you currently participate. Running counterclockwise is dizzying, and everyone swings wildly at slow-pitched balls. The song is still sung on occasion, but its meaning is long gone.

The habits of your corrupted version of softball shaped the way you understood and participated in the game. Anything different was difficult to comprehend, and only after immersion in new habits over a long period of time would you begin to appreciate them. Read more

Cities' church planting maps posted by NAMB

Southern Baptists may access new online church planting maps for North America's largest, most influential and least-churched cities.

The North American Mission Board has posted digital maps highlighting current and planned church plants for 17 of the 30 cities targeted in its Send North America outreach. The maps are available at Maps for the remaining cities will be posted as they are completed.

The online maps stem from NAMB President Kevin Ezell's longstanding desire to show Southern Baptists specific "dots on a map" where new churches are needed in Send North America cities.

"If a church wants to get involved in a specific city, you don't have to wonder where the needs are," Ezell said. "This is a very tangible way to see the needs and also the huge impact adding these churches will have on these cities." Read more
What steps is the Anglican Church in North America taking to identify communities and neighborhoods where new churches are needed? Rather than sending Archbishop Bob Duncan on junkets to Africa and other parts of the world, shouldn't the ACNA be using its resources to reach the unchurched and plant new churches?  

Schism divides Brazilian Anglican church

Largest Anglican congregation in South America quits

The Bishop of São Paulo and the former primate of Brazil have quit the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (IEAB), taking with them the largest Anglican congregation in South America.

On 17 March 2013 parish council of St. Paul’s Cathedral in São Paulo stated that while they remained in the Anglican Communion they were reverting to their pre-1975 status as a Church of England chaplaincy and were no longer under the oversight of the IEAB.

Money and politics rather than doctrine appeared to be behind the secession of St. Paul’s. The Bishop of Recife, the Rt. Rev. Miguel Uchoa said the new group was not affiliated with his diocese in the Northeast. He told Anglican Ink that in 2012 the Diocese of São Paulo attempted to elect a new bishop. However, “the bishop elected was not accepted by some churches. They opened a protest against the diocese and from this mess the bishop in office and the retired bishop Glauco Soares de Lima, ex primate of Brazil, left together and now they call themselves just Anglicans.”

“There are no theological issue in all of this, no doctrinal subject. It seems that it is all about power and money. It is the first schismatic case I have seen here between the liberals over power,” Bishop Uchoa said. Read more

A New New Testament

“Hal Taussig and a team of eighteen scholars and religious leaders have chosen ten texts… to be published alongside the twenty-seven that comprise the New Testament and called it A New New Testament.

The ‘new’ texts are from the post-New Testament eras and are mostly ‘gnostic’ in character (an exception is the Acts of Paul and Thecla). In fact, these texts are not ‘new’ but go back almost to the era of the apostle and for the most part have been known for many years by historians. …

Hal Taussig and his colleagues say that the ‘canon’ of the New Testament was not really ‘closed’ until relatively modern times and that it is therefore valid to publish other texts with the twenty-seven of the biblical canon within the one book. This asserts that the canon is, in effect, elastic. It is an elastic canon, capable of the addition of new texts.

That was not the view, however, of church leaders in the 2nd and 3rd centuries…”

– Historian and New Testament scholar Bishop Paul Barnett responds to a new publication which is sure to get publicity. Read it before you get all those questions.

Related – some publicity: “A New New Testament” – ABC Radio National.
Originally posted on the Anglican Church League website.

Only Half of Self-Identified Christians Plan to Attend Easter Sunday Services

California High Desert Sunrise
Photo: Jessie Eastland aka Robert DeMeo
LifeWay survey finds equal numbers of Americans plan to attend—and skip—Easter worship.

One of the biggest holy days of the church calendar year is days away, but 1 in 5 Americans still may not know whether or not they'll attend Easter services on Sunday, according to a new LifeWay Research survey.

And while 20 percent of survey respondents said they remain undecided, nearly 40 percent say they won't be attending church at all Easter weekend—including about half of those who say they rarely go to church.  Read more

Also read
Poll: Many US Christians Unsure About Attending Easter Services

If the Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage, What Next?

How churches and pastors should respond.

Two conversations come to mind when I consider how pastors and churches should respond to the prospect that same-sex marriage may become legal nationwide this year.

A young man once told me that he never would have become a follower of Jesus Christ, and certainly would never have reached sobriety, if the church had required him to overcome his alcoholism before it welcomed him into the embrace of Christian community. In being loved by the church, he learned of the love of God and responded to the gospel. Then (and only then) was he empowered to overcome the desires that controlled him.

He used the analogy of white oak trees, which hold on to their leaves through the winter and shed the vestige of their former life only when spring arrives and new life flows through the branches. We know that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, yet we are too often unwilling to open up our lives to those who are caught in patterns of habitual sin. Read more

Updated: A boost for gay marriage: Justices question US law

Concluding two days of intense debate, the Supreme Court signaled Wednesday it could give a boost to same-sex marriage by striking down the federal law that denies legally married gay spouses a wide range of benefits offered to other couples.

As the court wrapped up its remarkable arguments over gay marriage in America, a majority of the justices indicated they will invalidate part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — if they can get past procedural problems similar to those that appeared to mark Tuesday's case over California's ban on same-sex marriage. Read more

Also read
7 questions & answers: the Supreme Court & gay marriage
Justices question federal marriage definition

Pope reluctant to be pope: What does it mean?

He still goes by "Bergoglio" when speaking to friends, seems reluctant to call himself pope and has decided to live in the Vatican hotel rather than the grand papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.

It might seem as if Pope Francis is in a bit of denial over his new job as leader of the world's 1.2-billion Catholics. Or perhaps he's simply changing the popular idea of what it means to be pope, keeping the no-frills style he cultivated as archbishop of Buenos Aires in ways that may have broad implications for the church.

The world has already seen how Francis has cast aside many trappings of the papacy, refusing to don the red velvet cape Benedict XVI wore for official occasions and keeping the simple, iron-plated pectoral cross he used as bishop and archbishop.

On Thursday, his belief that a pope's job is to serve the world's lowliest will be on display when he washes the feet of a dozen young inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome. Previous popes have celebrated the Holy Thursday ritual, which re-enacts Christ's washing of his disciples' feet before his crucifixion, by washing the feet of priests in one of Rome's most ornate basilicas.

Such moves hint, even at this early stage, only two weeks into his papacy, at an apparent effort by Francis to demystify the office of pope. Read more

Also read
Pope Francis Is an Evangelical Catholic, Catholic Theologian Says

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Leadership by Urgency or Incrementalism?

Every organization has seasons where different leadership styles are more effective. There are times where the organizational culture resists change significantly. An aggressive change leader can become alienated or fired quickly. Indeed the entire organization may implode if change is pushed too quickly. These are times when leadership by incrementalism (what I have coined as “eating the elephant”) is in order.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is leadership by urgency. The leader recognizes that the organization may not survive the years ahead unless dramatic changes are made. There is really no option to move slowly. There is growing evidence of more leaders moving in this direction in these changing and disruptive times in which we live. Read more

Fact or Fantasy

You head to the local library looking for a book to read over the long weekend. Something with drama, mystery, intrigue, torture, murder. You want to read about some allegations of grave robbery, insider plots, religious corruption, political power plays. And you’re keen to spice it up with some angels and demons, astrology, ghostly appearances, the spiritual underworld, ancient signs, the dead coming to life, and claims to divinity. “Where will I find something?” you ask.

The librarian brings you a book. It’s a little bit dusty. Doesn”t get borrowed too often. You look at the cover and it says Holy Bible. She opens it for you and points to The Gospel of Matthew. Where did she get it from? Is this Fact or Fantasy? Is it found in Fiction or Non-fiction? Is it History or Legend? Biography or Novel? Was it next to Harry Potter and The Twilight series, or was it down with The Works of Josephus and Suetonius?

What do you think? Read more

Temptations in Preaching (Part 1)

There are many facets to the vocational life of a pastor. However, for evangelical pastors today there is one element of our calling that is deemed most important and induces the greatest anxiety: Preaching. How should we preach? What should we preach? Questions of technique, method and content abound. Undoubtedly, this flurry of interest in the discipline of preaching has had a positive impact on the “quality” of preaching in the church today. However, amidst this emphasis on the pastoral discipline of preaching I wonder if a focus on the pragmatic has left other questions unattended. Specifically, what temptations does the pastor face in preaching?

In a series of posts I wish to ponder with you some potential temptations in preaching. I do not share this list of temptations as a distant observer, but as one who has faced these temptations in preaching himself. While I am isolating these temptations in this series they most certainly are woven together; often bound by a deep belief that one’s identity is found in his work (preaching). This list is not intended to be exhaustive or systematically organized, but I do hope that my honest musings might provide fodder for discernment and dialogue with my fellow man-the pastor. Read more

Catching up with the Global Church

A veteran researcher describes the state of Christian faith around the world.

Patrick Johnstone authored Operation World, "the definitive prayer guide to every nation." The resource has sold more than 2.5 million copies and is considered by many to be the most important missions resource in history. Johnstone, a former missionary, recently took on another writing project of equally impressive scope: The Future of the Global Church (IVP, 2012). The book includes data on global history, demographics, and religion. Read more

5 money mistakes that lead to debt

Here are five common money mistakes that can quickly lead to debt. Avoid them at all costs. Read more

Also read
The Economy of the Kingdom

Anxiety high as rebels take over Central African Republic

A three-month-old rebel uprising in the Central African Republic swept into the country's capital Sunday, ousting the president and leaving ransacked Christian homes and churches in its wake.

A source close to the Episcopal Conference of the Central African Republic told World Watch Monitor that many Christians' properties have been looted. Cars, electronics and other goods were stolen.

The main Cathedral of Bangui, the premises of Caritas Charity, and the houses of a number of religious communities were targeted by armed men, said the source, who is a Catholic priest and asked not to be publicly identified, for security reasons.

Several rebel groups unhappy with the government of President Francois Bozizé, joined forces in December under the banner Séléka and within weeks had taken control of much of the country's north, northeast and the central regions.

Landlocked and largely impoverished, the French-speaking Central African Republic has a long history of unstable, military governments since it gained independence in 1960. Bozizé, who rose to power in a coup 10 years ago, fled Sunday to neighbouring Cameroon.

The rebellion swept out of the north, where the country's Muslim minority is concentrated, giving it a militant Islamic character, experts said.

"Given the rebellion's origins in the north, we can assume there are many Muslims in their ranks" said Roland Marchal, a sub-Saharan researcher at France's National Centre for Scientific Research, in published news accounts. Read more

Justices ponder narrow Prop 8 ruling

A family attends a March for Marriage on the Washington Mall as the Supreme Court hears arguments for and against California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and woman. Photo by Doug Carlson.
The U.S. Supreme Court struggled during oral arguments in a landmark case regarding same-sex marriage with not only how it should rule but whether it should rule on the constitutional issues involved in the controversial subject.

The justices heard arguments Tuesday (March 26) in the first of two days of considering whether states and the federal government can limit marriage to the traditional definition of the union only of a man and a woman.

The high court weighed whether Proposition 8, a 2008 amendment approved by California voters, is constitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down Prop 8, which defined marriage in the traditional sense.

On Wednesday (March 27), the justices will hear arguments regarding a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defines marriage in federal law as only a heterosexual union. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated that portion of the 1996 law. Read more

Also read
Supreme Court Oral Arguments Suggest Narrow Ruling on Gay Marriage
Supreme Court Likely to Overturn Part of DOMA
Religious Liberty in Peril If Prop 8 Isn't Upheld by Supreme Court?

Diana funeral marked return to 'Catholic' England, Archbishop

THE outpouring of public grief over the death of Diana Princess of Wales marked the moment England returned to its Roman Catholic roots almost 500 years after the reformation, according to the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Acts such as showering the Princess’s hearse with flowers show that the public is reverting to a “Catholic” approach to death after centuries of protestant reserve, the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols suggested.

He said that the Princess’s funeral in 1997 marked a watershed in British history and would be remembered as the “end of the Reformation in England”.

Catholic practices such as prayers for the souls of the dead and a belief in saints, which were dismissed by protestant reformers in the 16th Century, are now being rediscovered, he said.

The recent growth in unofficial roadside shrines commemorating people killed in accidents – often filled with flowers photographs and mementos – has also been widely interpreted as marking a change in the way the British respond to death.

Interviewed in a BBC documentary about shrines and other places of religious significance in Britain, the Archbishop said that English people were rediscovering their ancient Catholic “voice” Read more
It is noteworthy that Archbishop Nichols made these comments on “Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's Holiest Places.” Britain has also seen a resurgence of paganism along with superstitious Roman Catholic beliefs.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why Follow Jesus?

In today’s culture, we are more pragmatic than reflective. Obsessed with knowing what works and how it works, we strive to repeat the formula. We are less concerned with why things work. Discipleship is no exception. Many have traded in the why for the how, motivation for the best practice. This is disconcerting. The reason for this is that practice can take us only so far. When hardship hits, practice needs motivation to continue.

What motivates you to follow Jesus? If this question isn’t one you continually ponder and answer, you will walk away from Jesus rather than after Him. Read more

Is it True That “If You Don’t Have a Conversion Story You Don’t Have a Conversion”?

Sure it is. As long as what we mean by “having a conversion story” is broad enough to include, “I have loved and depended on the finished work of Christ as far back as I can remember.” Sadly, it is unlikely this is what people who say such things mean. Read more

Seven Mistakes in Public Speaking

As a teacher, consultant, and preacher, I talk to groups for a living. In fact, I’ve been a student of public speaking for more than 30 years. I’ve learned by studying in the classroom and by simply listening to others. Too often, I’ve learned the hard way by making my own mistakes.

On a positive note, I have seen that it’s possible to exercise leadership from the public platform. A well-timed, well-delivered address can rally the troops, strengthen the team, and compel them toward excellence. On the other hand, I’ve seen (and exhibited at times, I’m sure) some mistakes in public speaking. Here are a few of those. Read more

How to Protect a God-given Vision

Yesterday in our Pastor’s Virtual Coaching Network, we talked about the importance of protecting the vision in our churches.

Proverbs 29:18 (NIV) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

In other words, where there is a lack of vision, there is less focus and more chaos. However, here’s the scariest thought: If the followers don’t get the vision, or aren’t living t out, it’s usually because the leader has not gotten it across! Read more

Small Groups: The Authentic and Patient Leader

Few traits describe a good group leader as effectively as “authentic” and “patient.” Read more

Also read
4 Components of a Healthy Small Group Gathering

Dan Dilzell: Presenting Propositional Truth With Conviction and Compassion

Imagine a person getting ready to meet with a doctor to hear the results of a biopsy. Now imagine how ludicrous it would be for that person to say, "Hey Doc. Could you perhaps not get too literal in your explanation of my test results? How about presenting it to me in the form of an allegory? Or maybe you could make the results sound more like a "fantasy" than a reality? I don't think I am ready to hear the results just blurted out as a matter of fact. What do you think Doc? Can you help me out here?"

That hypothetical patient represents a dominant mindset in our world today. Many people have become extremely resistant to the idea of propositional truth, not in the area of medicine, but when it comes to God, eternity, sin, and forgiveness. You sound like an "absolutist" if you are overly dogmatic on religious assertions. That was actually the term someone used years ago when suggesting that I present God's Word with less certainty. In fact, people who don't believe that God's Word is "God-breathed" (see 2 Tim. 3:16) may even think you are arrogant if you present propositional truth with assurance and conviction. Read more

China Cracks Down on House Churches

Chinese pastor: Government recently investigated all households linked to the more than 100 Protestant groups and places of worship in his region.

ChinaAid reported in February the Chinese government's plan to eradicate all unofficial Protestant churches across the country. Now, that plan appears to have been set in motion.

"The ruling Chinese Communist Party's ideological agency in Jiaozhou city called on township Party committees and neighborhood panels to investigate fully all unofficial venues of worship on their territory," according to a report from Radio Free Asia.

Pastor Zhan Gang, who leads the local Protestant Chinese House Church Alliance in Jiaozhou, said all of the houses in his district already have been investigated.

That could signal the start of a broader, country-wide campaign, as pastors in Shenzhen and Guangzhou provinces report similar directives issued in their areas. Read more

Also read
Indonesia: Church walls go up only to be torn down again

Court could avoid ruling on gay marriage ban

The Supreme Court suggested Tuesday it could find a way out of the case over California's ban on same-sex marriage without issuing a major national ruling on whether America's gays have a right to marry.

Several justices, including some liberals who seemed open to gay marriage, raised doubts during a riveting 80-minute argument that the case should even be before them. And Justice Anthony Kennedy, the potentially decisive vote on a closely divided court, suggested that the court could dismiss it with no ruling at all.

Such an outcome would almost certainly allow gay marriages to resume in California but would have no impact elsewhere. Read more

Also read
Supreme Court Oral Arguments Suggest Narrow Ruling on Gay Marriage
Supreme Court has options on gay marriage
Gay marriage? These voices say 'No' and explain why
Gay marriage by the numbers

Monday, March 25, 2013

Eight Practical Ways to Celebrate Easter

In just a few days, believers around the world will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Congregations will meet before sunrise to focus on the truth that Jesus is alive. Families will dress in their finest clothes for this special day. Folks who typically don’t attend church will do so this week. As you celebrate Easter this year, think about these practical ways to celebrate the holiday.... Read more

The Truth of the Cross — Free eBook

This week is Holy Week and thanks to Reformation Trust we’re giving away the eBook edition of R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. This book serves as an uncompromising reminder that the atonement of Christ is an absolutely essential doctrine of the Christian faith, one that should be studied and understood by all believers. Read more

Also read
Did God Die On The Cross? (an excerpt from R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross)

The Most Overlooked Key to a Growing Church

I believe the most overlooked key to growing a church is this: We must love unbelievers the way Jesus did. Without His passion for the lost, we will be unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to reach them.

Jesus loved lost people. He loved spending time with them. He went to their parties. From the Gospels it is obvious that Jesus enjoyed being with seekers far more than being with religious leaders. He was called the “friend of sinners.” (Luke 7:34) How many people would call your church that?

Jesus loved being with people and they felt it. Even little children wanted to be around Jesus, which speaks volumes about what kind of person he was and what kind of pastor he’d be. Children instinctively seem to gravitate toward loving, accepting people.

The honest reason many churches do not have a crowd is they don’t want one! They don’t like having to relate to unbelievers. Attracting a crowd of unbelievers would disturb their comfortable routine. Selfishness keeps a lot of churches from growing. Read more

23 Lessons Coffee Taught Me About Reaching the Unchurched

I am an anomaly in America culture. At 47 years old, I have never had a cup of coffee until I attended a Coffee Cupping last week. Coffee Cupping is similar to a wine tasting in that you smell the aromas, identify flavors, test texture, and then drink different types of coffee.

It is not because of religious reasons that I have not had a cup of coffee. I simply do not enjoy hot drinks. Like many people who have no religious background, I have no coffee background. I was truly an outsider in this group of about 15 people at the event.

Within moments I began to realize that many people with no church background likely process their church experience in the same fashion I, with no coffee background, was experiencing the coffee cupping.

With that said, the following are 23 lessons coffee cupping taught me about reaching the unchurched. Make sure you read the last two. Read more

Michael Youssef: More Pastors Jumping Off the Rock into the Raging Waters

When evangelical preachers lose their way and turn their backs on biblical Christianity, why is it they end up in the Episcopal Church?

As a preacher who traveled in the opposite direction and left the Episcopal Church 22 years ago—or I should say the Episcopal Church left me—I think I have a clue.

On March 18, the Huffington Post reported that Rob Bell, the one-time evangelical pastor who rejected the core of Christian faith, has endorsed homosexual marriage.

Where was that endorsement made? Surprise, surprise: Grace Cathedral, the Episcopal Cathedral of the Diocese of California. Grace Cathedral is located in San Francisco, the Mecca of homosexuality and all things anti-biblical. Read more

Seven Ways the Cross Speaks

It is said that when hymn pollsters report which hymn is most frequently requested, "The Old Rugged Cross" is hands-down the most popular. The author of that hymn, George Bennard, believed the cross wasn't just a symbol of Christianity, but the very heart of it.

In the days to come, Christians from all over the world will be celebrating the passion of Christ. It is indeed the focus of God's redemption. The cross speaks of so much we need to understand about God, ourselves, our need, our duty, and our hope.

While contemplating the cross recently, I jotted down seven ways the cross speaks. Read more

Number of churches left in Iraq: 57

Iraq had 300 churches and 1.4 million Christians in 2003, but now only 57 churches and about half a million Christians remain with members of the minority fleeing Islamist attacks, according to local reports.

Patriarch Louis Sako of the Chaldean Church told Mideast Christian News the remaining 57 churches also continue to be targeted. The number of Christians has fallen from about 1,400,000 in 2003 to nearly half a million now, added William Warda, the head of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organisation.

This means more than two-thirds have emigrated, Warda said. "The last ten years have been the worst for Iraqi Christians because they bore witness to the biggest exodus and migration in the history of Iraq." Read more

CALL TO PRAYER: 7 days of focus on marriage

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. Few issues rise to this level of importance.

These two cases will do much to answer the question for how marriage is going to be viewed in the United States for the foreseeable future. On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop. 8). In this case, the court is being asked to decide the fate of Proposition 8 in California. At stake is whether or not the people of California can define marriage in their constitution as only the union of one man and one woman. In a worst-case scenario in deciding Hollingsworth, the court could rule unconstitutional the definition of marriage as only the union of one man and one woman, repudiating two and a quarter centuries of American jurisprudence in which marriage has been defined and regulated by each state, not the federal courts. Every state that has passed such laws would be affected. It would also be going against several millennia of the Judeo-Christian definition of marriage.

On Wednesday, the court will hear arguments in United States v. Windsor. That case deals with the constitutionality of section three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Windsor case creates the possibility that the court could overturn DOMA in its entirety. DOMA is important at many levels. For one, it protects states that do not support same-sex marriage from being required to recognize same-sex marriages that have been performed in states where the practice is legal. For another, it provides a standard definition of marriage for all federal programs, assuring that only heterosexual marriage is recognized across all federal government programs. It also provides protections for federal workers from being forced to violate their consciences regarding marriage. If DOMA is overturned, military chaplains will be especially vulnerable to pressures to accommodate an expanded definition of marriage in their ministries. Read more

Also read
If gay marriage is legalized, polygamy is next, briefs warn
Briefs: Relig. liberty on line in marriage cases
Briefs: Gay marriage would harm children

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Five Steps to Get Beyond Sacred Cows in the Church

Many years ago I was serving as pastor of a church where I was an avid supporter of door-to-door outreach. But I struggled with leading people to be involved in the ministry. We kept decent records, so I got the old “outreach cards” for the previous year. My brief research shocked me.

I estimated that we had invested nearly 1,500 hours of our members’ time in this ministry during the past year. The apparent result of our ministry had resulted in, at best, two Christian families joining our church. If you assume a workday of eight hours, our members had worked 187 full days with no evangelistic fruit. Read more

8 Simple Ways to Pour Into Leaders

In the American church, we tend to think of leadership development as a classroom and curriculum-based process, but Jesus had a better idea: spend time with people. Jesus allowed His life to rub off on His chosen leaders and to pour His wisdom into them, and we can do the same. Sometimes it’s a matter of spotting the natural opportunities that come along while at other times, its an intentionally-planned conversation.

Here are some simple ways to make leadership development a part of your life… Read more