Friday, January 31, 2014

Dan Delzell: Accepting Christ Involves Knowing God Accepts You


The idea of "accepting Christ" sounds mystical and mysterious to some people. What is this "born again" stuff all about anyway? What am I supposed to "feel" if it happens to me? And am I even someone God would consider to bless in this way?

Let's break it down. Let's get beyond the semantics and talk about what it actually means to "accept Christ" as your Savior. Keep reading

Tracey Harris: Taking control of our thoughts and words - making the mind-mouth connection


Have you let God's Word take root in your heart today? 

Have you ever noticed that the thoughts you turn over and meditate on in your mind most eventually become words that you speak? 

I have. I have noticed words suggesting that I am actually worried sneak out of my lips two minutes after stating that I have left a problem or issue with God. I have heard myself uttering resentful words when I thought I had 'forgiven' someone. I have verbalised negative thoughts about myself when I had promised myself that I wouldn't.

It's very easy to growl at yourself, 'stop worrying, or stop being negative,' only to fail miserably. It's tiring and can lead to burn out.


But there is a better way – and that is to pay attention to what you are thinking about. The Bible cautions us in Proverbs 4 verse 23 to guard our hearts with all diligence for out of it flow the issues of life. Keep reading

Joe McKeever: Jesus is Always Looking for Faith


“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Jesus was always on the lookout for faith.

Like a geiger counter in search of uranium or a metal detector on the beach, His heart seems to have started pinging when someone in His presence got the faith-thing right.

Our Lord was busy teaching in a crowded little house in Capernaum one day when the ceiling began falling on him. Four local men had brought their paralyzed buddy for Jesus to heal, and unable to get him in the house because of the crowd, they carried him onto the rooftop and tore open the tiles. (They couldn’t wait? we wonder.) As the opening grew bigger, the crowd moved back and some of those inside helped to lower the man into the room. What a moment that must have been.

Scripture says, “When Jesus saw their faith,” He forgave the paralytic of his sin, then healed him of his paralysis. (Mark 2:1-12).

He could spot faith a mile off. Keep reading

Andy Blanks: Equip Students to Share Their Faith


For many students, faith makes a difference in their lives—they just have a hard time explaining why. And if they can’t articulate the basics of their faith, it may be because they don't know the basics of their faith. Here are six ways to more effectively teach students the foundational distinctives of their faith and equip them to articulate these to others. Keep reading

Mike McKinley: 4 Lessons for Evangelism Across Economic Boundaries


Let's be honest. When churches talk about "reaching out across socioeconomic boundaries," they are talking about middle class (and wealthier) people reaching out to poorer folks. You don't see many rundown churches in economically depressed areas starting outreach programs for Volvo-driving soccer moms who live in housing developments with names like "The Pines at Oakbrooke Gables." I don't know, maybe they should.

In any case, a lot of churches find the socioeconomic barrier to be the most difficult one to overcome in their evangelism. Ethnic barriers, by contrast, are more obvious, and mature congregations will sensitively work to ensure they don't create division in the church. But so-called class differences can be more subtle. People from different socioeconomic backgrounds might look the same and speak the same language but still have a very difference experience of daily life. Keep reading

Photo: vimeo.com

R C Sproul: Your Testimony Is Not the Gospel


So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.” He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:24–25).

This statement, “Give God the glory!” seems positive until we read the remainder of the sentence, in which the Pharisees revealed that they had concluded that Jesus was a sinner and therefore could not have performed the miracle. They were saying that the man should give glory to God, not to Jesus. The man was straightforward with them, saying: “I don’t know whether He’s a sinner. I don’t even know Him. All I know is this: once I was blind and now I see.”

With these simple words, the man bore witness to Christ. He testified about the redemptive work of Christ. However, he did not preach the gospel. What am I getting at? In the evangelical Christian community, we sometimes employ language that is not always sound or biblical. You’ve heard the lingo. It goes something like this: “I plan to become an evangelist so I can bear witness to Christ.” Or sometimes we say, “I had a chance to witness the other day,” meaning, “I shared the gospel with someone.” We tend to use the terms evangelism and witnessing interchangeably, but they are not synonymous. Any time I call attention to the person and work of Christ, I am bearing witness to Christ. But that is not the same thing as preaching the gospel. Keep reading
This excerpt is taken from R.C. Sproul’s commentary on John. Today is the final day to download the digital edition free.

Dallas Willard: The Right Way to Give Someone a Blessing


Use the Bible's words. And make it personal.

Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another. It isn't just words. It's the actual putting forth of your will for the good of another person. It always involves God, because when you will the good of another person, you realize only God is capable of bringing that. So we naturally say, "God bless you."

You can bless someone when you will their good under the invocation of God. You invoke God on their behalf to support the good that you will for them. This is the nature of blessing. It is what we are to receive from God and then give to another.

Now we need to deepen that just a little bit, because it isn't just a verbal performance. It isn't "bless you" said through gritted teeth. It's a generous outpouring of our whole being into blessing the other person. So, among other things, you don't want to hurry a blessing. It becomes a habit that we say thoughtlessly, "God bless." Well, that's better than a lot of other things we could say, but we want to be able to put our whole self into our blessing. That is something we need to be thoughtful about. We don't just rattle off a blessing. It's a profoundly personal and powerful act. Keep reading

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Karl Vaters: Why Unfriendly Big Churches Are Bad – But Unfriendly Small Churches Can Be Dangerous


People are only capable of having relationships with so many people. We don’t need studies to tell us that. We know it instinctively.

That’s why we all behave differently in a large crowd than we do in a small group.

When there are thousands of people in a room, we expect to be an audience, so we become one. Even the presence of a few hundred people causes us to slip into the role of passive observer instead of active participant. That’s not to say that a large crowd is bad, but the mere fact of its size causes us to act more passively, even in church. We put on our polite crowd smile and become an audience.

But it’s different in a smaller group. We expect people to say hello. We hope for connection. We want to be a part of the conversation.

Today’s post is not a slam on big churches. None of my posts will ever be that. Instead, it’s intended to serve as a caution to Small Churches.

Friendliness is not more likely in a Small Church. But it is more important. Keep reading

Jennifer Kabbany: Stitched With Prayer: Seniors Create Quilts for Comfort


A Canadian couple was engaged in a desperate court battle to complete their adoption of an infant boy when his birth mother decided she wanted him back. It was then that they received a prayer quilt from Christ United Church in Lyn, Canada. The very next day, a judge awarded the couple custody.

Liz Healy, a member of the church and chairwoman of The Bee’s Knees prayer quilt ministry, says it’s one example of many miracles connected to the ministry.

“It just gives us shivers, the things people have told us,” Healy says, noting their prayer quilts have traveled the globe and prompted many praiseworthy stories in return. Keep reading

Other service projects from Outreach Magazine

Chad Hall: 5 Things to Remember When It Comes to Church Size


I have had the privilege to serve as a coach to pastors for over 15 years, and I’ve noticed that it does not take long in the coaching relationship for the topic of church size to come up. I’ve also noticed that some pastors approach church growth with health and wholeness while others struggle with (and because of) church size. If you are a pastor, church planter, or key leader, you need a healthy and theologically sound attitude for dealing with church growth, size, and numbers. To help you develop such an attitude, here are five things to recognize when it comes to church size. Keep reading

Also see
Stephen Miller: Your Meaningless Ministry

Dan Delzell: Demons Target the Eyes, Mind and Body


If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the devil cannot "make you" do anything. He can, however, tempt you, and he can also oppress you once you give into his suggestions. So just how does this whole temptation thing play out, especially as it relates to the role of the devil?

To begin with, let's remember that the devil was originally one of God's good angels. Then he went rogue, and a third of the angels went with this rebel. But don't forget, the devil is only one angel. Powerful? Of course. But he can only be in one place at one time. He is not omnipresent like God.

This is where the other evil spirits (demons) come in. They are his posse and his servants of iniquity. It's a good thing we don't see them. I don't think we would handle it very well. But God is always with His children, and God's angels are also protecting us and watching over us.

So how do demons spend their time? Well, read the New Testament and you will get a pretty good idea. They mess with people in a variety of ways. But of course their biggest goal is to keep people from knowing Jesus as Savior. When someone becomes a Christian, the devil instantly loses his footing in that person's life. Keep reading

Free Ebook: 5 Habits of Highly Missional People


Encouraging your typical church member to live missionally is easier said than done. Most people like the whole missional idea, but aren’t sure what it means for their everyday lives. In this new eBook by internationally recognized missiologist and author Michael Frost, The Five Habits of Highly Missional People: Taking the BELLS Challenge to Fulfill the Mission of God, Frost presents five missional habits that every believer can live out—habits that will send them out into the lives of others, as well as binding them to each other and connecting them more deeply to God. Drawing on many years of experience as a missional leader, Michael Frost, presents what has been a complex set of ideas (the missional paradigm) in a way that anyone can adopt and live out. Learn more

Download the eBook

Eliud Wabukala: There is urgency about the gospel


I write this first message of 2014 with great hope and confidence for the year ahead. GAFCON 2013 renewed our vision for the Anglican Communion as a global fellowship faithful to the Scriptures and confirmed what many of us had already sensed, that our movement is emerging as the only real answer to the Communion’s problems of fragmentation and confusion.

In the year ahead we must resolve to devote ourselves to the great biblical mandate to make disciples of all nations which was the focus of our gathering in Nairobi. There is urgency about the gospel and it must be proclaimed in word and deed, in season and out of season and it is the same gospel, whether in strife torn nations such as South Sudan or in the affluent but morally disorientated nations of the developed world.

We cannot therefore allow our time and energy to be sapped by debating that which God has already clearly revealed in the Scriptures. Earlier this week, the English College of Bishops met to reflect upon the ‘Pilling Report’, commissioned to reflect on how the Church of England should respond to the question of same sex relationships. Its key recommendations were that informal blessings of such unions should be allowed in parish churches and that a two year process of ‘facilitated conversation’ should be set up to address strongly held differences within the Church on this issue. Keep reading

Michael Trimmer: 'Jesus is the Son of Allah' brings fiery response in Malaysia


An unofficial banner using the word "Allah" outside a Catholic church was enough to prompt the throwing of Molotov Cocktails in the Malaysian western state of Penang, according to local police.

The 228-year-old Church of the Assumption on the Lebuh Farquhar thoroughfare in George Town, was attacked with two glass bottles of flaming petrol at 1.30am local time on Tuesday. Anthony Dass Sinapan, the 71-year-old church guard volunteer, caught sight of a fire near a shrine to St Mary that sits at the church's front.

Based on the description of events from the Senior Deputy Commissioner of Police in Penang, Datuk Abdul Rahim, the church was extremely fortunate. Speaking in the Malaysian Insider, he said: "Only one [Molotov cocktail] exploded as the other one fell on the grass" and that "initial investigations showed that two men on a motorcycle committed the crime". Keep reading
The links to the article about Molotov Cocktails were not a part of the original article. I added them for those readers who may be unfamiliar with this particular kind of improvised incendiary device.
Photo: Indymedia

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Midweek Special Edition: January 29, 2014


In this midweek special edition of Anglicans Ablaze:

Bradley Nassif: Hummus and the Holy Spirit


Like the popular Middle Eastern dish, our understanding of the Trinity relies on a delicate blend of ingredients. Did one small change to the Nicene Creed alter the recipe, or enhance the original?

I love food, especially Middle Eastern cuisine. My Lebanese grandmother is to blame for that. When I was a boy, she would spend hours in the kitchen kneading dough, grinding lamb, boiling cabbage, mixing spices, rolling grape leaves, making baklava, and baking bread. Cooking was a way she showed her love.

The foods were elaborately prepared with time-tested techniques, each having a special Arabic name (too ornate to pronounce in English). Many dishes went back centuries, some to the days of Jesus. These treasures of the palate were artfully displayed on the kitchen table. Salads, desserts, side dishes, and main courses offered the best of Grandma's Mediterranean gems. I especially loved her hummus, a chickpea dip now popular in America.

Grandma died many years ago. For years I longed for her hummus. So this past summer, I took up cooking to try to remake some of her favorite dishes, including hummus. But to my dismay, I failed as I mixed the wrong ingredients and spices over and over again. "What am I doing wrong?" I asked. "Why can't I make hummus like Grandma did? Do I need to add more lemon? Is garlic necessary or optional? Must I use olive oil, or will canola oil do just as well? What's essential and what's not?" Eventually, I discovered the balance. Now my hummus is to die for—at least according to my family.

Similarly, Christians have a long tradition of enjoying a delicate combination of ingredients that compose a proper understanding of the Trinity. That beautifully balanced doctrine of the Trinity came in the fourth century, after church leaders reflected on how God exists as a unity of three equally divine and equally eternal Persons. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God—three divine Persons sharing one divine nature. The doctrine was eventually summarized in the Nicene Creed.

The heresy the Nicene Creed stood against was Arianism. The heresy was named after Arius, a priest who believed that Jesus was not fully God but rather a created being through whom God the Father made the world. If Arius and his followers were right, enormous consequences would follow: The church would be wrong to worship Jesus as God. Salvation through Jesus would be impossible because only God can save—and Jesus would not have been fully God. Keep reading

Sinclair Ferguson: A Catechism on the Heart


Sometimes people ask authors, “Which of your books is your favorite?” The first time the question is asked, the response is likely to be “I am not sure; I have never really thought about it.” But forced to think about it, my own standard response has become, “I am not sure what my favorite book is; but my favorite title is A Heart for God.” I am rarely asked, “Why?” but (in case you ask) the title simply expresses what I want to be: a Christian with a heart for God.

Perhaps that is in part a reflection of the fact that we sit on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Think of John Calvin’s seal and motto: a heart held out in the palm of a hand and the words “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.” Or consider Charles Wesley’s hymn:
O for a heart to praise my God!
A heart from sin set free.
Some hymnbooks don’t include Wesley’s hymn, presumably in part because it is read as an expression of his doctrine of perfect love and entire sanctification. (He thought it possible to have his longing fulfilled in this world.) But the sentiment itself is surely biblical. Keep reading

Matt Smethurst: Don't Hate on Rural Ministry [Video]


Laboring away in their little non-strategic locales, rural Christians reach few influencers and probably do not impress Jesus. Bless their heart.

Though never put so baldly, some of today's "in the city for the city" rhetoric might at times give the impression that rural ministry is a bit second-class. In a new roundtable video, Collin Hansen sits down with Stephen Um and Jared Wilson to discuss the realities and peculiarities of ministry in rural, suburban, and urban areas.

"Since our world is becoming more urban, there is an undeniably strategic need for healthy gospel churches in cities," observes Um, pastor of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston and co-author of Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church [interview]. Nevertheless, he insists, just because cities matter does not mean they matter more. Keep reading
I live in rural western Kentucky, on the outskirts of a small university town, which is also the county seat. The area has lots of churches. At the same time 70% of the population is unchurched. 

Adam Miller: Maine church planters envision communities' spiritual warming


Aroostook County, located in northern Maine and known to residents simply as "The County," takes up half the state's land mass but makes up only 5 percent of its population.

Vast tracts of open space and distinctly formidable weather make The County feel like another country when compared to the rest of the state.

"It's not easy to live here," said pastor and church planter Joshua Presley of Calvary Baptist Church in Caribou, a town six hours north of Portland that sits north of 40 percent of Canada's population.

Presley, a 30-year-old east Tennessee transplant who also works as a banker in neighboring Presque-Isle, has now weathered three winters with his wife Kelsey, who grew up in Portland.

"People who are from here have a sense of pride and independence because they've made it work despite the weather. They're amazing people," Presley said.

The County can be many degrees colder than the rest of Maine. But as long as the snow slows to 12 inches or less per hour, the roads stay open and life goes on.

"It's a dry cold," Presley said, trying to assure that the weather isn't as bad as it sounds. Keep reading

Ed Stetzer: Look Before You Innovate: The Secret of Change


Innovation is great—but not all innovation. The question for the church is what innovations we should pursue.

Innovation Has Always Mattered

Christianity has been innovating since its beginning. All present traditions were once innovations. Meeting on Sundays was an innovation of the early church. Meeting in buildings was a second century innovation. Yes, those aren’t as cutting edge as multisite, data projectors and church apps, but they all were innovations.

We can easily look back through church history and judge which innovations proved beneficial and remained biblical, but what about the choices churches face today? How can we best determine whether a proposed change should be considered or rejected immediately?

We need some discernment to know what should and should not be innovated. But let’s be honest: Not everything needs to be innovated. The question is, How do we know what to innovate? How do we decide? I think the answer is that some things in church should be essential, some convictional, and some things simply preferential. Keep reading
The Anglican ecclesiological matrix in Ed Stetzer's article is problematic. It does not reflect the diversity found in contemporary global Anglicanism. For example, weekly Eucharists and infant baptism are not convictional for all Anglicans. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere may be found Anglican churches that do not have weekly Eucharists and defer the baptism of children until an age when they make for themselves the baptismal vows that their parents would have made for them if they had been baptized as infants.

Scott M. Douglas: Practices for Developing Younger Leaders


As the Boomer generation of pastors begins their transition to retirement, a large number of Millennial pastors are poised to assume these positions of leadership. A 2012 LifeWay Research study found that 35% of pastors were either at retirement age or within 10 years or less of retirement, while only 11% of pastors surveyed were under age 35.

Just like in coaching where many head coaching positions are filled by assistant coaches, as retiring pastors transition out of ministry their positions will likely be filled by those currently serving as associate pastors, youth ministers, interns, or other roles. So what can outgoing pastors do to prepare and train a ready leadership base to step in and effectively serve in churches?

Here are 11 practices I’ve found to be successful in churches who have managed these situations well.... Keep reading

Also see
Derwin Gray: What Do You Do When a Staff Member Wants to Leave?

Greg Breazeale: Brothers, Let Us Read Fantasy: 5 Reasons Pastors Should Read Fiction


When Eustace Scrubbs fell into the dragon’s lair, he was quite puzzled. He had no knowledge of dragons because, as Lewis explained, “Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, chap. 6).

Many of us pastors are guilty of the same thing. We need to make a point that requires more imagination or creativity, and we hit a wall. We find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, and lack the resources to navigate through it. Could this be because we are reading the wrong books? Or, to state it positively, are we reading the right books? Is it possible to read too much theology and philosophy and church history? Several years ago I would have answered with a resounding no! Today my answer is: Yes, if you are not also reading good fantasy and imaginative literature. To be clear, my hope here is not for you to put down your theology and church history books; but rather that you would avail yourself to the vast world of fantasy and story.

Here are five reasons those who preach the Word should read fantasy. Keep reading

Joe McKeever: What the Carnal Mind Will Never "Get" About Worship


Can we talk about worship?

Here are a few quotes to get us started. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of any of them, having found them in that motherlode of fascinating quotes, real and imagined, solid and made-up-on-the spot, the internet. Smiley-face goes here….

1) From actor Brad Pitt: “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.”

There is a reason this makes no sense to you, Mr. Pitt. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. Nor can he understand them, for they are spiritually appraised” (I Corinthians 2:14).

Don’t mean to be harsh in that assessment, but it explains why so many on the outside look at Christian worship and shake their heads. They just don’t get it.

Let me repeat that: They. Do. Not. Get. It. Keep reading

Jason Hatley: Changing Your Ministry Culture from Managing to Mentoring


Part 2 of the series: Building Strong Worship Leaders

For the second time this week Joe felt like he had reached the end of his rope.

As the Worship Pastor in a growing church, he constantly felt overwhelmed and under-prepared. Regardless of how hard he worked, how early he came into the office, or how many items he crossed off of his list, it seemed he never really got it all done. “If I just had someone to help me,” Joe thought, “then maybe I could at least get a day off this week.” Somehow this wasn’t what he pictured when he felt called to ministry seven years ago. Keep reading

Tim Challies: Why I Love an Evening Service


Of all the casualties the church has suffered in recent decades, I wonder if many will have longer-lasting consequences than the loss of the evening service. There was a time, not so long ago, when many or even most churches gathered in the morning and the evening. But today the evening service is increasingly relegated to the past.

At Grace Fellowship Church we hold on to the evening service and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is a commitment, to be sure—a commitment for the pastors to plan a second service and to prepare a second sermon, and a commitment for the members to give the church not only the morning but also the evening. But these are small costs compared to the great benefits. Here are a few things I love about an evening service. Keep reading

Mark Howell: 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor


I’ve been asked many times for a small group pastor job description, and that is certainly one way to look at the situation. If I was a senior pastor though, I’d look at it from another angle. I’d try to figure out the habits and patterns that make for the ideal candidate.

Here are the 5 habits I’d be looking for.... Keep reading

Best Kindle Deal of the Week: Christian Worldview: A Student's Guide - Only $3.99


Everything we think, say, and do reflects our worldview. Whether we realize it or not, basic beliefs about God, humanity, history, and the future inevitably shape how we live.

Philip Ryken, author and president of Wheaton College, explains the distinguishing marks of the Christian worldview, helping us to thoughtfully engage with our increasingly pluralistic society. Based on the notion that ideas have consequences, this accessible resource will help you see life’s “big picture” by equipping you with a well-reasoned framework of Christian beliefs and convictions. Buy now

Barrett Duke: Marijuana's potency & what churches can do


President Obama's recent comments about marijuana are very troubling. Having smoked marijuana myself for many years as a teenager and young adult, I can say that the president's claim that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol is an inadequate comparison.

Both alcohol and marijuana are dangerous. To say one thing is less dangerous than another doesn't mean very much if both things are extremely dangerous.

Claiming alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana is essentially a distinction without a difference. Marijuana is associated with a long list of physical and psychological problems. Keep reading

Photo: United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Ed Stetzer: The Grammys, Grace, and the Gospel: 3 Things the Grammys Can Remind Christians


How did the 2014 Grammy Awards signal a shift in American culture?

The cultural highlight of the Grammys would certainly be Queen Latifah overseeing a mass marriage ceremony.

It was not solely a gay marriage ceremony, but the ceremony was during the gay marriage anthem "Same Love," so the intent and focus was clear. There were outward differences among the couples on the floor—different races, different gender combinations, etc.—but the central message of the moment was that the "sameness" is in the love—hence the song, "Same Love."

Cultural Shifts
Now, the Grammy Awards presentation is not the show you watch for high-brow cultural commentary or family-friendly entertainment. News reports indicate that many parents were shocked by Beyoncé (among others). I honestly have to wonder if these parents have heard of Beyoncé before now, and why were they expecting the Grammys to be family friendly. (J. Lo's dress from 2000 is easy to recall from the dark recess of our memories.)

So, the Grammys are not representative of our culture, but in some ways they are indicative of its shifts. And, the Grammy moment is a good moment to remind ourselves of a few things. Keep reading

Kiley Crossland: Shotgun Cohabitation


Unwed couples who get pregnant are more likely to move in together than to get married

Unwed couples who get pregnant are more likely to move in together than to get married, according to government data collected over the past decade. Cohabitation has surpassed “shotgun weddings” as the most common reaction to an unplanned pregnancy by an unmarried couple, a growing trend that creates an unstable environment for children.

The trend is outlined in a soon-to-be-released report from the National Survey of Family Growth, a data collection program compiled every four years by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The survey collects data on the relationship status of women before and after conception and childbirth.

The data gathered between 2006 and 2010 indicates that about 18.1 percent of single women facing an unplanned pregnancy decide to move in with their boyfriend. Only 5.3 percent decide to get married, down from 25 percent in the early 1990s, according to research by Cornell University’s Daniel Lichter. Keep reading

Sri Lanka: Christians protest after attacks by Buddhist extremists


More than 2,000 Christians gathered in Colombo on Sunday to protest against a perceived lack of religious freedom in Sri Lanka, following recent attacks on Christian places of worship by Buddhist extremists.

Two churches and a Christian prayer centre were attacked on Jan. 12 by Buddhist mobs claiming they were illegal and aiming to take Buddhists away from their religion.

The prayer centre, belonging to the Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Pitipana, near Colombo, was set alight on the same day as attacks on the Assemblies of God Church and Calvary Free Church in the southern coastal town of Hikkaduwa.

The fire was quelled in Pitipana before the centre was completely destroyed. Release International reported that a note was left outside the building, threatening further violence. Both churches in Hikkaduwa suffered extensive damage, with windows and furniture smashed and Bibles burned. Keep reading

Also see
Blasphemy laws - the all time threat for the Christians of Pakistan
Malaysia’s ‘Allah’ impasse

Photo: ucanews.com

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Karl Vaters; When Church Growth Perceptions Don’t Match Small Church Reality (Infographic)


Church leaders have a lot of ideas about what the numerical growth of a church – and therefore its size – says about that church’s success and value. Unfortunately, many of those perceptions don’t match reality.

For example:

True, Small Churches have been perceived that way at times – sometimes by their own pastors. But one of the goals of NewSmallChurch.com is to challenge such misperceptions. Because perceptions have a way of becoming reality if we’re not careful.

So far, we’ve presented ideas and advice about the uniqueness of Small Churches in The Grasshopper Myth, over 200 written blog posts and a growing collection of podcasts and videos. But the one way we haven’t expressed it is in the visual format known as an infographic.

Until now. Keep reading

Brett McCracken: Has 'Authenticity' Trumped Holiness?


In recent years, evangelical Christianity has made its imperfection a point of emphasis. Books were published with titles like Messy Spirituality: God's Annoying Love for Imperfect People, Death by Church and Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and churches popped up with names like Scum of the Earth and Salvage Yard. Evangelicals made films like Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, wrote blog posts with titles like "Dirty, Rotten, Messy Christians," and maintained websites like anchoredmess.com, modernreject.com, churchmarketingsucks.com, recoveringevangelical.com, and wrecked.org—a site that includes categories like "A Hot Mess," "Muddling Through," "My Broken Heart," and "My Wreckage."

Meanwhile, self-deprecating humor sites like Stuff Christians Like and Stuff Christian Culture Likes became hugely popular repositories of Christianity's many warts, and writers like Anne Lamott and Donald Miller became best-selling, "non-religious" expositors of messy spirituality.

Evangelicalism—both on the individual and institutional level—is trying hard to purge itself of a polished veneer that smacked of hypocrisy. But by focusing on brokenness as proof of our "realness" and "authenticity," have evangelicals turned "being screwed up" into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness? Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness? Keep reading

Nthan Finn: Is Monergism Necessarily Fatalistic?


Last week, I blogged on the topic “Is Synergism Necessarily Semi-Pelagian?” I did so with some hesitation. I do not like to blog about issues related to Calvinism and Arminianism because I don’t like the turn these discussions often take on the internet. However, the blog post received a lot of (mostly) positive feedback from folks across the theological spectrum. I have been asked by several readers to follow up by addressing the question of whether or not monergism is necessarily fatalistic, since synergists sometimes unfairly claim it is. Angels, I apologize once again. Please don’t put me on “the list.”

I do want to offer one caveat up front: while this is something of a parallel accusation to the one I addressed in the previous post, there is an important dissimilarity. Semi-Pelagianism is a theological position that arose at a particular point in church history and then was condemned as error. Fatalism is not a theological position per se, but is more an unhelpful philosophical outlook. So while monergists who equate synergism with semi-Pelagianism are at least implicitly charging synergists with heresy (or at least heterodoxy), synergists who equate monergism with fatalism are at least implicitly charging synergists with embracing a totally non-Christian position. Keep reading

David W. Jones: The Prosperity Gospel in My Own Heart


While I had been exposed to the prosperity gospel earlier in life, it was not until I began seminary that I thought seriously about it. I began to serve in local churches during my time as a student, and I was amazed to find so many people under my care consuming property gospel material via different forms of media. Moreover, many people seemed to view their relationship with God as a quid pro quo transaction. He was treated as a celestial sugar daddy who existed to make them healthy, wealthy, and happy on account of service rendered.

Early in my academic career, I published in a rather obscure theological journal an article entitled “The Bankruptcy of the Prosperity Gospel.”[1] In it I attempted to synthesize my initial objections to prosperity theology, as well as hopefully to give basic direction to those caught up in the prosperity gospel movement. To my surprise, I received immediate feedback about my short publication—both positive and negative. In fact I continue to receive more feedback about that piece than anything else I have written.

These two experiences prompted me to ask this question: why are evangelical Christians drawn to the prosperity gospel? And why does it resonate with so many people generally? After some reflection and investigation, the answer at which I arrived was surprising: the prosperity gospel resides in the heart of all men; the prosperity gospel is even in my own heart. Keep reading

Zach Nielson: How to Avoid a Cult of Personality

its-all-about-me

For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1.11-13)

Just because you're a strong and effective leader doesn't mean you've built a cult of personality. That should be all of us. But the Oxford Dictionary helps us know what we are trying to avoid. It defines a cult of personality as a "misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing."

There is nothing wrong with your people admiring you as their pastor. The problem starts when the healthy admiration morphs into unreflective obedience, fearful retreat, or a messianic complex.
Only our admiration of Jesus could never be misplaced or excessive. So perhaps the best way to avoid a cult of personality in your ministry is to actively pursue creating a cult of personality for someone else, namely Jesus.

Consider these other ways to help you avoid an unhealthy cult of personality. Keep reading

Aaron Armstrong: Is church growth all about the pastor?


Yesterday, I read a provocative article on this subject by David Murrow. He writes:
Can I be brutally honest? When it comes to church attendance, nothing matters as much as the ability of the pastor to deliver good sermons. If a pastor is good at his job, the church grows. If he’s bad at his job, the church shrinks. Sounds unspiritual—but it’s true. It shouldn’t be this way—but it is. Each week is a referendum on the pastor’s ability to deliver an inspiring sermon.
Murrow goes on to say that, although it pains him to say it—he wishes that it were things like the community’s love for one another that kept people coming—”when it comes to putting men in pews, nothing matters more than pastoral quality. Every other consideration pales in comparison.” Keep reading

Photo: chairtex.com

Chuck Lawless: Personal Evangelism and Pastors: 14 Findings (part two)


In last week’s post, I shared six findings about pastors and personal evangelism, based on a study of leaders of 100 evangelistic churches in my denomination. Here are the final eight findings.... Keep reading

Geoff Surratt: Effective Evangelism and Mastering the Art of the Turn


Because of my undiagnosed allergy to the inside of an office I spend a lot of time hanging out at coffee shops and restaurants. Most of my fellow nomads are people conducting business, and every day I see “the turn” executed at tables around me. For the uninitiated let me explain the turn. You invite a potential customer to meet you for coffee. When they arrive you engage them in small talk feigning interest in their stories about work, family and life in general. After an appropriate amount of time passes you steer the conversation toward what you actually want to take about; an amazing opportunity, a business proposition or potential investment. This is “the turn”, the moment when the real purpose of the meeting comes out. I see the disappointment on faces as they realize the salesman doesn’t really care about them, he just wants to pitch. There’s a turn in process at the next table as I type. (Read more about Ron Popeil, the master of the turn here) Keep reading

Monday, January 27, 2014

Thom Rainer: Seven Reasons Very Active Church Members Drop Out


Perhaps the image many of us have of church dropouts is a person who was only marginally involved at the onset. He or she did not connect with people and ministries in the church, so that person became a dropout – a person who stopped attending church altogether.

But there are a number of persons who have been active in church life for years. They have had key leadership positions. They are considered some of the most faithful members. And then they are gone. Sometimes it’s sudden; on a few occasions it is more gradual.

During my 25 plus years of church consultations, I have interviewed a number of these active-to-inactive persons. Most of them shared freely and openly with me what took place in their lives, and how it impacted their ultimate decision to stop attending church.

Though there are certainly far more reasons, I am listing the top seven reasons I heard from these formerly active members. For now, I will not make qualitative or analytical comments about their decisions. These top seven reasons are listed in order by the frequency I heard them. Keep reading

Issues in Contemporary Preaching


Erik Raymond: How to Preach a Stale Sermon

Sermon preparation is a delight and chore for the pastor. It is a delight because we love the Word of God and the people of God. After all, God uses preaching to initiate and sustain the joyful worship of his people, which in turn glorifies God (2 Tim. 3-4).

It is also a chore. This is because sermon prep is hard work. Thorny interpretive issues, homiletical hurdles, and church family dynamics often make sermon preparation difficult.

But there is another aspect of sermon prep that is too often either assumed or neglected. I am talking about the preparation of the pastor's heart to actually preach the sermon. Preparing a sermon is not only about exegesis, reading commentaries, articulating propositions, and finding appropriate illustrations. Sermon preparation is also about personally discovering, digesting, and delighting in the truth.

This crucial aspect of preparation can be neglected or assumed. We might assume that the text is in us because we have read it, researched commentaries, and written our message. However, this is a costly leap. Instead of assuming that the text is in us, we must ensure that it is. Such subtle, oft-neglected oversight in preparation can become a foe to our preaching.

So why is it dangerous to neglect preaching the sermon to your own heart? Keep reading

John Stackhouse: Preaching that Avoids the Scandal…and the Centre

I’ve been impressed recently in reading the early chapters of the Book of Acts by the confrontational clarity and boldness of the apostles’ public preaching. How can one not be so impressed? Peter, John, & Co. not only dare to champion the renegade Jesus in the very city in which he was recently killed quite horribly for saying nothing more challenging than what his disciples are now saying, but they dare to assert the apparently preposterous notion that God raised this Jesus from the dead.

Indeed, after a couple of accounts of such sermons, the narrator writes, “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).

As it happens, I’ve been interviewed recently by a variety of media regarding church planting, church growth, and church “success” (by various definitions) here in Vancouver, in Cascadia, and in North America more broadly. These queries have prompted me to fresh alertness as to what our contemporaries are doing by comparison to what I have been reading in Acts. And I see one or two differences perhaps worth submitting for Christian consideration. Keep reading

Danny Groner: How churches can embrace video


For many centuries, church leaders have dealt with the harsh reality of having to take something as traditional as religion and to make it exciting to a modern audience. With so many distractions at hand, it's harder and harder every day to lure people in. It's something publishers and businesses grapple with daily, and it's also something top of mind for church leaders. Since we live in such a fast-moving and constantly-evolving world, it's crucial for pastors to innovate and master the latest technological gadget.

If you pay attention to what marketers, online and offline, are predicting for the future, they're squarely focused on video as a way to attract and keep audiences. People love to see and hear a good story, strategies that pastors have the advantage of already employing in their public sermons and private conversations. But video offers an audio.visual version to delight churchgoers. Here are three ways that video can be worked into regular church programming to help fill the pews. Keep reading
Video can be used on the church website, at worship gatherings and other church functions, and in small group meetings. 

A. J. Rinaldi: How to Craft a Three-Word Testimony


Your testimony is an effective way to share the gospel because it’s your story—edited by you, filtered by you, qualified by you and told by you. You can tell it anywhere, and it includes how you came to Christ and how others can come to Christ, too. Here are steps you can use—or teach others to use—to craft a personal, three-word testimony. Keep reading

Tyler O' Neil: Christians Are Following Secular Trends in Premarital Sex, Cohabitation Outside of Marriage, Says Dating Site Survey


A new study on Christian attitudes toward dating and marriage reveals a broad acceptance for cohabitation, premarital sex and a rejection of traditional gender roles. Experts believe that many Christians are following cultural trends over scripture when it comes to sex and marriage.

"Christians are perhaps more influenced by the culture than they are by the teachings of scripture or the church," Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, told The Christian Post in an interview on Friday.

According to the "2014 State of Dating in America" report published by Christian Mingle and JDate, 61 percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage. Fifty-six percent said that it's appropriate to move in with someone after dating for a time between six months and two years. Fifty-Nine percent said it doesn't matter who the primary breadwinner of the family is. And 34 percent responded that while it would be nice to marry someone of the same faith, it's not required. Keep reading

Also see
Anugrah Kumar: Divorce Rate Higher in Counties With More Conservative Protestants, Study Says

Hunger in America: Putting the Latest Proposed Food Stamp Cuts in Perspective


The new face of food stamps: working-age Americans

In a first, working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps — a switch from a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.

Some of the change is due to demographics, such as the trend toward having fewer children. But a slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs also plays a big role. It suggests that government spending on the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program — twice what it cost five years ago — may not subside significantly anytime soon.

Food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the fastest among workers with some college training, a sign that the safety net has stretched further to cover America's former middle class, according to an analysis of government data for The Associated Press by economists at the University of Kentucky. Formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP, the program now covers 1 in 7 Americans. Keep reading

Doctors say cutting food stamps could backfire

Doctors are warning that if Congress cuts food stamps, the federal government could be socked with bigger health bills. Maybe not immediately, they say, but over time if the poor wind up in doctors' offices or hospitals as a result.

Among the health risks of hunger are spiked rates of diabetes and developmental problems for young children down the road.

The doctors' lobbying effort comes as Congress is working on a compromise farm bill that's certain to include food stamp cuts. Republicans want heftier reductions than do Democrats in yet another partisan battle over the government's role in helping poor Americans. Keep reading

50 years into war on poverty, food stamp cuts hit Ky.'s Owsley County harder than most

Rosanna Troyer is coping with the drop in her federal food assistance from $367 to $303 by cutting back on meat purchases and buying more canned goods and macaroni and cheese.

Her 12-year-old daughter is already sick of the hot dogs they've been eating frequently at their home in Owsley County, which has the lowest median household income of any U.S. county outside Puerto Rico.

"She says 'mom, can't we have something else? I told her, you got to wait, maybe next month," said the 36-year-old Troyer.

Troyer is one of the more than 47 million Americans who receive food stamps, all of whom saw their allotment drop on Nov. 1 as a temporary benefit from the 2009 economic stimulus ran out. Few places feel the difference as profoundly as Owsley County, an overwhelmingly white and Republican area whose own representative in Congress voted against renewing the benefit. Keep reading

More New Yorkers Face Hunger After Congress Cuts Food Stamps

Following Congress's decision to cut $5 Billion in funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or, food stamps) last November, New York City food banks have been flooded by families and individuals, according to a new report from the [PDF] Food Bank for New York City.

Following the cuts, 31% of food pantries reported an increase in traffic of more than 25%, while 16% of food pantries saw a rise of more than 50% of people looking for food. These cuts come as nearly one-third of New Yorkers struggle to afford food on a daily basis....

During November of 2013, more than a quarter of food pantries turned hungry New Yorkers away because they had run out of food. Keep reading

U.S. Child Hunger Rates By County: 2013 Report Reveals Most Food-Insecure Places For Children (Photos)

For as much wealth as the United States has, there are millions who struggle to get enough to eat.

Feeding America, a nonprofit that combats hunger, released its 2013 nationwide food insecurity study last week, and the numbers are grim.

The report uses USDA research data from 2011 to zero-in on child hunger at the local level so that local groups can more effectively address the problem. The study was supported by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which works to combat poverty worldwide. Keep reading

Opinion: We are the poor

Fifty years ago, when Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, the poor were different – “other,” as in Michael Harrington’s seminal book of 1962, “The Other America.”

That’s no longer the case.

After the War on Poverty ended, Republicans told working-class whites that their hard-earned tax dollars were being siphoned off to pay for “welfare queens” (as Ronald Reagan decorously dubbed a black single woman on welfare) and other nefarious loafers. The poor were “them” – lazy, dependent on government handouts and overwhelmingly black – in sharp contrast to “us,” working ever harder, proudly independent (even sending wives and mothers to work in order to prop up family incomes dragged down by shrinking male paychecks) and white. Keep reading

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Weekend Edition: January 25, 2014


In this weekend's edition of Anglicans Ablaze:

Larry Barker: Busting 6 Common Myths About Church Health


Growing up there were many superstitions, wives’ tales, and myths that as you got older you realized, as much as you believed it then, they were not true. Some were harmless and innocent but others caused fear because if you broke a mirror you believed you would have seven years bad luck. Even intelligent people will knock on wood, wish on a falling star, and become visibly upset if a black cat crosses their path. As a child, I remember carefully walking down a sidewalk and avoiding every crack because, “step on a crack break your mother’s back.”

There are many church “myths” today that are spoken as if they are factual. A myth is defined as, “an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true.” Remember, a myth is called a myth because it has not been proven true. The problem is that we hear myths, believe them, and then allow them to control our thinking and our behavior. When churches believe myths rather than the truth it causes fear and can paralyze their ministries. Things like, “If we build it they will come!” or “All we need is a really cool vision statement and then we will grow!” Here are some other church “MYTHS:” Keep reading

Photo: janeyco.blogspot.com

Karl Vaters: Building a Strong Leadership Team in a Small Church [Video]


Relationships + time = trust.

If you want a healthy church with a strong team of staff and volunteers, there are no shortcuts. We have to love people, support their gifts and allow for plenty of mistakes. Then keep doing it long enough to trust and be trusted.

Today’s video, from the October 2013, Small Church Pastors’ Workshop, is a tag-team talk with me and my Youth Pastor, Gary Garcia. Keep reading

Jemar Tisby: Church Planting in a Trailer Park: An Interview with Phil Fletcher


“Why doesn’t someone plant a church in a mobile home park?” One noted theologian (https://twitter.com/drantbradley) has often made this challenge to evangelical leaders and denominations that tend to focus their attention on the inner-city and “reaching” blacks.

But we found a church planter who started a church in a low-income white community–a mobile home park–in Conway, Arkansas. And the church planter is black. His name is Phil Fletcher and we had a chance to ask him a few questions about his church plant, The Church at Oakwood, and the non-profit he started. Keep reading

Thom Rainer: Seven Observations on Church Discipline


ThomRainer.com focuses on the local church, pastors and staff, and leadership. By its very nature, the blog is practical, often citing statistics and sociological research. There are many able persons who focus on areas I do not, such as key biblical and theological matters.

Still, if my blog, or any of my other writings for that matter, do not have biblical foundations, I am nothing more than an amateurish sociologist or a secular researcher. I must constantly ask if everything I write is in line with Scripture. Ultimate truth is found in His Word.

But when I write about church discipline, the topic expands into both biblical teachings, particularly ecclesiology, and practical church ministry. A healthy church is ultimately a biblical church. And there should be little debate about the biblical mandate for churches to exercise church discipline.

Yet the topic of church discipline seems to be primarily reserved for the theologians and a few pastors. Those of us who write about practical ministry and church health rarely mention this topic, even though it is a clear biblical practice. Allow me to note seven observations about church discipline. Keep reading