Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Other Side - Is Christianity truely on the decline?

Here is the link to an article from WORLD Magazine's latest issue. Due to several recent posts on this blog regarding polls and news articles on the state of Christianity in America, some of which appear to paint a bleak picture, I thought it would encourage you to read this article.

http://www.worldmag.com/articles/15477

Monday, May 11, 2009

Interesting article from Barna -- How would we define spiritual maturity?

Many Churchgoers and Faith Leaders Struggle to Define Spiritual Maturity

America may possess the world’s largest infrastructure for nurturing human spirituality, complete with hundreds of thousands of houses of worship, thousands of parachurch organizations and schools, and seemingly unlimited products, resources and experts.
Yet, a new study from the Barna Group identifies an underlying reason why there is little progress in helping people develop spiritually: many churchgoers and clergy struggle to articulate a basic understanding of spiritual maturity. People aspire to be spiritually mature, but they do not know what it means. Pastors want to guide others on the path to spiritual wholeness, but they are often not clearly defining the goals or the outcomes of that process.

The research was conducted by Barna Group in partnership with Living on the Edge (www.livingontheedge.org) and included a nationwide, random sample of adults and a similar national survey among Protestant pastors, exploring definitions of, perceptions about, and perceived barriers to spiritual maturity.

Five Challenges
The study showed five significant challenges when it comes to facilitating people’s spiritual growth.
1. Most Christians equate spiritual maturity with following the rules.
One of the widely embraced notions about spiritual health is that it means “trying hard to follow the rules described in the Bible” – 81% of self-identified Christians endorsed this statement, and a majority agreed strongly (53%). Even among those individuals defined by their belief that salvation is not earned through “good works,” four out of five born again Christians concurred that spiritual maturity is “trying hard to follow the rules.”
2. Most churchgoers are not clear what their church expects in terms of spiritual maturity.
An open-ended survey question asked churchgoers to describe how their church defined a “healthy, spiritually mature follower of Jesus.” Half of churchgoers simply said they were not sure, unable to venture a guess regarding the church’s definition. Even among born again Christians – that is, a smaller subset of believers who have made a profession of faith in Christ and confessed their sinful nature – two out of five were not able to identify how their church defines spiritual maturity. Among those who gave a substantive response, the most common responses were having a relationship with Jesus (16%), practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study (9%), living according to the Bible (8%), being obedient (8%), being involved in church (7%), and having concern for others (6%).
3. Most Christians offer one-dimensional views of personal spiritual maturity.
A second open-ended question probed self-identified Christians’ personal definition of what it means to be a healthy, spiritually mature follower of Jesus, regardless of how they believe their church defines it. One-fifth of self-described Christians were unable to offer an opinion. Other identified elements included: relationship with Jesus (21%), following rules and being obedient (15%), living a moral lifestyle (14%), possessing concern about others (13%), being involved in spiritual disciplines (13%), applying the Bible (12%), being spiritual or having belief (8%), sharing their faith with others (6%), and being involved in church activities (5%). Born again Christians were similar in all respects to self-described Christians except they were more likely to mention having a relationship with Jesus (30%) as the sign of spiritual maturity. Further reflecting a lack of depth on the subject, the open-ended questions typically produced, on average, just one response from survey respondents, despite the fact that interviewers repeatedly probed for additional or clarifying comments.
4. Most pastors struggle with feeling the relevance as well as articulating a specific set of objectives for spirituality, often favoring activities over attitudes.
The research among pastors highlighted several inter-related challenges. First, while nearly nine out of 10 pastors said that a lack of spiritual maturity is the most significant or one of the largest problems facing the nation, a minority of pastors believe that spiritual immaturity is a problem in their church. A second challenge is that only a minority of churches has a written statement expressing the outcomes they are looking for in spiritually mature people. A third challenge is that pastors often favor activities over perspectives in their definitions of spiritual maturity. Their metrics for people’s spirituality include the practice of spiritual disciplines (19%), involvement in church activities (15%), witnessing to others (15%), having a relationship with Jesus (14%), having concern for others (14%), applying the Bible to life (12%), being willing to grow spiritually (12%), and having knowledge of Scripture (9%).
5. Pastors are surprisingly vague about the biblical references they use to chart spiritual maturity for people.
One of the reasons churches struggle with making disciples may relate to the lack of clarity that pastors have about the underlying biblical passages that address the process of spiritual maturity. This is most clearly reflected in the huge proportion of pastors who give generic responses when asked to identify the most important portions of the Bible that define spiritual maturity. In fact, one-third of pastors simply said “the whole Bible.” Other generic responses included “the gospels” (17%), the New Testament (15%), and Paul’s letters (10%). In all, the survey showed that three-quarters of pastors mentioned some type of generic answer to this query. In addition, one out of every five pastors gave a semi-generic response, such as “Romans” or the “life of Christ.”
As for verse-specific responses (mentioned by just one-fifth of pastors), the most common passages included: Galatians 5, John 3:16, Ephesians 4, Matthew 28, and Romans 12:1-2. Just 2% of pastors specifically identified the Galatians 5 passage relating to the “fruits of the Spirit,” which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Theme specific answers represented just 7% of responses, including the Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commission, the Great Commandment, and the Beatitudes.

Five Opportunities
The research also identifies a number of opportunities that can be leveraged to address the problems related to spirituality maturity.
1. Christians and pastors have clarity about the major boundaries that must be addressed to tackle the problem.
What are the perceived reasons that people do not grow spiritually? Self-identified Christians were asked about the obstacles they experience while pastors were queried to see how well they understand the barriers facing their congregants. Church leaders believe the three primary obstacles to people’s engagement are lack of personal motivation (32%), other competing obligations and distractions (26%), and lack of involvement in activities that nurture growth (19%). In this respect, they do not seem too far off in their perceptions. Born again Christians identify distractions (24%), lack of motivation (20%), and lack of involvement (13%) as challenges they face, even if two of the three are mentioned less frequently by adults than pastors. Born again Christians, however, are more likely than pastors to identify sinful behaviors and habits as tripping them up (14% of believers versus 8% of pastors).
2. While most Americans are relatively content with their spirituality “as is,” millions aspire to grow spiritually.
Most adults think of themselves as both spiritually healthy as well as spiritually satisfied, which is both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is that most people’s satisfaction can lead to complacency. One opportunity is to connect with the 18 to 20 million Americans who describe themselves as spiritually unhealthy or as dissatisfied with their personal spiritual maturity. Still, a majority of adults say they are “completely” (14%) or “mostly” healthy when it comes to spirituality (40%); nearly two-thirds of Americans describe themselves as “completely” (22%) or “mostly” satisfied with their spirituality (43%). The opportunity among these individuals is to help them move beyond complacency and embrace a deeper understanding of spiritual growth.
3. Compared to older believers, Christians under the age of 40 are less satisfied with spirituality and less “rule oriented.”
Young Christians show signs of spiritual openness that older adults do not. People under the age of 40 are different than those Christians over 40 by being less satisfied spiritually and also rating their spiritual health less favorably. In addition, the generational difference over rule-following was striking: most Elders (ages 63+) and Boomers (44 to 62) strongly endorsed the spiritual metric of rule-following (66% and 56%, respectively); however, fewer than half of Busters (25 to 43) and Mosaics (18 to 24) embraced this view (45% and 33%). Among the young, this signals a dangerous propensity to rethink the Bible’s standards, but it also shows unique responsiveness to grace and forgiveness.
4. Pastors realize they need more help when it comes to assessing spiritual health.
Just 9% of clergy said they were completely satisfied with their ability to measure and assess the spiritual health of their congregation. Still, few pastors (8%) were expressly dissatisfied, leaving a majority of leaders moderately satisfied. Perhaps churchgoers would become less complacent about self-evaluation as pastors embrace more effective forms of evaluation for their congregations.
5. Pastors tend to be harder on themselves than are congregants.
About 1 out of 10 pastors said the church itself was a barrier to people’s growth, while none of the churchgoers offered a similar critique. Similarly, when asked to rate the church’s ability to help people grow spiritually, pastors were significantly less likely (6%) than churchgoers (33%) to give the organization high marks, reflecting the fact that pastors are often their own toughest critics. The opportunity is to forge a greater sense of partnership and mutual esteem between leaders and laity to address the challenges, to work against self-deception in the process, and to craft deeper, more appropriate routes to spiritual maturity.

Implications
David Kinnaman, President of the California-based research firm, directed the research project. He pointed out several implications of the study:
“America has a spiritual depth problem partly because the faith community does not have a robust definition of its spiritual goals. The study shows the need for new types of spiritual metrics. One new metric might be a renewed effort on the part of leaders to articulate the outcomes of spiritual growth. Another might be the relational engagement and accountability that people maintain. Of course, spirituality is neither a science nor a business, so there is a natural resistance to ascribing scientific or operational standards to what most people believe is an organic process. Yet, the process of spiritual growth is neither simplistic nor without guidelines, so hard work and solid thinking in this arena is needed.”
“As people begin to realize that the concepts and practices of spiritual maturity have been underdeveloped, the Christian community is likely to enter a time of renewed emphasis on discipleship, soul care, the tensions of truth and grace, the so-called ‘fruits’ of the spiritual life, and the practices of spiritual disciplines. A related challenge is that as spiritual formation becomes ‘trendy’ it will inevitably become ‘watered down’ with products that over-promise or are simply counter-productive. Leaders have to take on this issue more effectively, and part of that task is weeding out the good from bad.”

Research
This report is based upon nationwide telephone surveys conducted by The Barna Group with random samples of adults, age 18 and older, and Protestant clergy. The survey among adults was conducted in August 2008 among 1005 adults randomly selected from across the continental United States. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The survey among pastors included 611 clergy, with a maximum margin of sampling error of ±4.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.
“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources, both free and at discounted prices, are also available through that website.
© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Prayer

O Father, how we need mercy. We sin every day. We fall short of your command to love you with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. We are lukewarm in our affections. All our motives, even at their best, are mixed. We murmur. We are anxious about tomorrow. We get angry too quickly. We desire what out not be desired. We get irritated at the very attitudes in others that we ourselves displayed five minutes before. If you do not show mercy to us, we are undone. O God, let us see the mercy of Christ and savor it for what it is. Grant us power to comprehend his love. Incline us to read and ponder the stories of the mercy of Jesus in the Gospels. Let us so admire what he did that we imitate him. But let it be much more that external imitation. Let it come from the heart where we have been broken for our sin and where we have come to cherish mercy and live by mercy and hope in mercy and long for mercy. Make the mercy of Jesus the greatest beauty of the Savior in our eyes. Let us behold, and beholding, become like him. And bend this taste for mercy outward so that we show it. Make us full of his mercy that me might show mercy. Fulfill in us the command to do justice and love mercy. Let us love showing mercy. Make it so much a part of us that it is who we are. So unite us to Christ that his mercy is our mercy, and our mercy is a presenting of Christ. He is all we have to give in the end. Glorify his mercy, Father, in our faith and in our patience. Thank you, oh, thank you, for Christ and your mercy to us in him. In his name we pray, amen.

-John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Chapter 10 The Incarnate Wealth of the Compassion of God)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Two Interesting Articles

Here are two articles that I read today.  Unfortunately, both are pretty disheartening about the outlook of Christianity in our culture.  But don't forget that our Jesus is Lord, and he conquers all in the end no matter what things look like currently!

The first article was written by Al Mohler, and is about teenagers' faith.  It was written in 2005, but hey, it is still good reading!
My favorite section is on the 3rd page and reads, "Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily. These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith."

The second article was one I found on CNN / Time today.  It's about a new thing going around called "debaptism".  http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1891230,00.html?cnn=yes

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Interesting take on Evagelicalism - could be pretty much on the mark

From the Christian Science Monitor:





The coming evangelical collapse
An anti-Christian chapter in Western history is about to begin. But out of the ruins, a new vitality and integrity will rise.
By Michael Spencer
from the March 10, 2009 edition
Oneida, Ky. - We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.
Why is this going to happen?
1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.
The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap ofbelieving in a cause more than a faith.
2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.
3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.
4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.
5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.
6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.
7. The money will dry up.
What will be left?
•Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success – resulting in churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.
•Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more efforts aimed at the "conversion" of Evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.
•A small band will work hard to rescue the movement from its demise through theological renewal. This is an attractive, innovative, and tireless community with outstanding media, publishing, and leadership development. Nonetheless, I believe the coming evangelical collapse will not result in a second reformation, though it may result in benefits for many churches and the beginnings of new churches.
•The emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision.
•Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear.
•Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Can this community withstand heresy, relativism, and confusion? To do so, it must make a priority of biblical authority, responsible leadership, and a reemergence of orthodoxy.
•Evangelicalism needs a "rescue mission" from the world Christian community. It is time for missionaries to come to America from Asia and Africa. Will they come? Will they be able to bring to our culture a more vital form of Christianity?
•Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before – a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.
Is all of this a bad thing?
Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral. But what about what remains?
Is it a good thing that denominations are going to become largely irrelevant? Only if the networks that replace them are able to marshal resources, training, and vision to the mission field and into the planting and equipping of churches.
Is it a good thing that many marginal believers will depart? Possibly, if churches begin and continue the work of renewing serious church membership. We must change the conversation from the maintenance of traditional churches to developing new and culturally appropriate ones.
The ascendency of Charismatic-Pentecostal-influenced worship around the world can be a major positive for the evangelical movement if reformation can reach those churches and if it is joined with the calling, training, and mentoring of leaders. If American churches come under more of the influence of the movement of the Holy Spirit in Africa and Asia, this will be a good thing.
Will the evangelicalizing of Catholic and Orthodox communions be a good development? One can hope for greater unity and appreciation, but the history of these developments seems to be much more about a renewed vigor to "evangelize" Protestantism in the name of unity.
Will the coming collapse get Evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about the loss of substance and power? Probably not. The purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in fine form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church's problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time.
Will it shake lose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? Evidence from similar periods is not encouraging. American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success.
The loss of their political clout may impel many Evangelicals to reconsider the wisdom of trying to create a "godly society." That doesn't mean they'll focus solely on saving souls, but the increasing concern will be how to keep secularism out of church, not stop it altogether. The integrity of the church as a countercultural movement with a message of "empire subversion" will increasingly replace a message of cultural and political entitlement.
Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, "Christianity loves a crumbling empire."
We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century.
We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being His people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture.
I'm not a prophet. My view of evangelicalism is not authoritative or infallible. I am certainly wrong in some of these predictions. But is there anyone who is observing evangelicalism in these times who does not sense that the future of our movement holds many dangers and much potential?
• Michael Spencer is a writer and communicator living and working in a Christian community in Kentucky. He describes himself as "a postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality." This essay is adapted from a series on his blog, InternetMonk.com.

Monday, March 9, 2009

David’s Heart

We recently read Psalm 139 in church and the last few verses of the psalm struck me in a way that they hadn’t before.  David asks our Creator to

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
       test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
       and lead me in the way everlasting.

David wants God to search him and know his heart.  His desire is to be completely and utterly transparent before God.  He invites God to find the offensive ways and to lead him the way everlasting.  It caused me to question my own heart.  Is my desire one of complete and utter transparency?  Do I want to be lead in the way everlasting?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Social Gospel and Conservatism

I've been reading some posts on Facebook where those in the Conservative camp are decrying churches getting caught up in the Social Gospel.  So I decided to do some research on what it is or was and quite frankly I'm concerned about those Christians that are of the conservative persuasion who are simply carping and not doing.

Here's what wikipedia defines the social gospel as:  The Social Gospel movement is a Protestant Christian intellectual movement that was most prominent in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The movement applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially poverty, inequality, liquor, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, child labor, weak labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war. Above all they opposed rampant individualism and called for a socially aware religion. Theologically, the Social Gospel leaders were overwhelmingly post-millennialist. That is because they believed the Second Coming could not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort.[1] Social Gospel leaders were predominantly associated with the liberal wing of theProgressive Movement and most were theologically liberal. Important leaders include Richard T. ElyWashington Gladden, and Walter Rauschenbusch.

After the Social Gospel movement faded after 1950, many of its ideas reappeared in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Social Gospel principles continue to inspire newer movements such as Christians Against Poverty.


Now if you read thru the statement you'll see that speaking out against the oppression of people is something that should be a mark of Christianity.  Remember scripture says that Jesus went about his ministry doing good.  And James tells us not only that faith without works is dead but also that pure undefiled religion is to care for the widow and orphan.  Put those two together and I believe we have a mandate to actually do some good works and stop wringing our hands from the sideline about whether or not the church is going down the tubes because we are actually going to start doing good instead of talking about it.


Sure we need to make sure our motives are right -- ie we are doing it to serve Christ - and to share his love and free gift but as I have stressed before we need to do it with a language that is clear.  We throw around so much church jargon that no one understands.  Michael W Smith wrote the following :


Were passengers aboard the train
Silent little lambs amidst the pain
Thats no longer good enough
And when its time to speak our faith
We use a language no one can explain
Thats no longer good enough

And God knows its a shame
As we look to pass the flame
We are not the worthy bearers of his name

Chorus:

For the world to know the truth
There can be no greater proof
Than to live the life, live the life
Theres no love thats quite as pure
Theres no pain we cant endure
If we live the life, live the life
Be a light for all to see
For every act of love will set you free

Theres something beautiful and bold
The power of a million human souls
Come together as one
And each in turn goes out to lead
Another by his word, his love, his deed
Now the circle is done

It all comes back to one
For it is he and he alone
Who has lived the only perfect life weve known


This song was written in 1997 and we have simply gotten even more bizarre to a world around us that no longer has a Christian world view.  And so what does the conservative evangelical church do:  Complain about moving down a path to a Social Gospel mindset.  True, we have to guard against just doing good with no end game - but we need to start doing good instead of TALKING about doing good.  I am so encouraged by the efforts of some of our guys to go into the homeless camps around here and just doing good.  Some of the post'ers would say - see that's a social gospel because you didn't go in and share the gospel right away after giving them the sleeping bag.  However after a series of visits the men starting asking the why are you doing this question.  And as of a couple of weeks ago one of the men accepted the free gift of salvation.  It took our guys to earn their trust and show an interest in the men as a fellow human being and not a conquest.

We do, however, need to remind ourselves that we are 1) Serving Christ by showing love to "the least of these my brothers"  2) showing the love of Christ with the goal of sharing the clear gospel message not bogged down with our jargon that no one understands.


Let's stop worrying about the church in America going down the tubes by standing on the side complaining about folks wanting to do good works and get in the game and show love.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Green Light Blessing

I called my drive to work this morning a “blessing.”

Each morning I drive less than two miles to a parking lot, get in a stranger’s car and “slug” to Washington, DC.  The trip to the parking lot takes me through 4 traffic lights and 3 stop signs.  Two of the traffic lights are right turns so I don’t count those, the stop signs are never busy, and one of the two remaining lights is weight triggered leaving me with one annoying stop light.  Very often I get stuck sitting at this light watching the line behind me grow and a trickle of cars drive through the intersection in front of me.  (I write a few paragraphs about why it annoys me and even more reasons why it shouldn’t but that’s not what I’m going for in this post so I’ll just move on.)

Today, I caught that annoying light just right.  As I drove through the intersection I said to myself “Thank you God for that blessing.”  In that same moment, I wondered what made getting through that green light a “blessing.”  Why did I call the light going my way a blessing, but when God deems it right for the light to turn red and me to wait not a “blessing.”  Do I only consider things that God gives me that are what I want good, but when God in his infinite knowledge and love gives me things that aren’t in what I want not worthy of thanks?

What is a blessing really?

1 Thessalonians 5:18 - “give thanks in all circumstances…”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sacrifice

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=forde_pat&id=3812762&sportCat=ncf

In the top half of the article Tim Tebow says “…I mean, more people would do those things; they just don't want to sacrifice.”  That is very true.  People don’t want to sacrifice and that’s exactly what we need to do if we are to truly make a mark.  I often times think about how we as Christians hope to make a difference.  Many think that because we don’t cuss or don’t watch certain movies that that will be enough to draw people to the Creator (making wise decisions is a good thing, don’t get me wrong).  If our language is the only difference people see in us then I’d say we’re failing as followers of Christ.  Where is the sacrifice, the demonstration of unconditional love?  I think Tebow recognizes the need for sacrifice.

Monday, January 5, 2009

blogging

I thought this was a good article about why pastors should blog and I think it can apply to us as well even though we aren't all pastors.

from desiringgod.org/blog

6 Reasons Pastors Should Blog

March 31, 2008 | By: Abraham Piper
Category: Commentary

In this article I want to convince as many pastors as possible to sit down and start a blog today. If I can’t convince them, then I want to convince churchgoers to hound their pastor until he does.

OK, all that’s overstatement, perhaps. You can still be a good pastor and not blog.

However, here’s why I think it would be good for you and your congregation if you did.

Pastors should blog…

1. …to write.

If you’re a pastor, you probably already know the value writing has for thinking. Through writing, you delve into new ideas and new insights. If you strive to write well, you will at the same time be striving to think well.

Then when you share new ideas and new insights, readers can come along with you wherever your good writing and good thinking bring you.

There is no better way to simply and quickly share your writing than by maintaining a blog. And if you’re serious about your blog, it will help you not only in your thinking, but in your discipline as well, as people begin to regularly expect quality insight from you.

2. …to teach.

Most pastors I’ve run into love to talk. Many of them laugh at themselves about how long-winded they’re sometimes tempted to be.

Enter Blog.

Here is where a pastor has an outlet for whatever he didn’t get to say on Sunday. Your blog is where you can pass on that perfect analogy you only just thought of; that hilarious yet meaningful story you couldn’t connect to your text no matter how hard you tried; that last point you skipped over even though you needed it to complete your 8-point acrostic sermon that almost spelled HUMILITY.

And more than just a catch-all for sermon spill-over, a blog is a perfect place for those 30-second nuggets of truth that come in your devotions or while you’re reading the newspaper. You may never write a full-fledged article about these brief insights or preach a whole sermon, but via your blog, your people can still learn from them just like you did.

3. …to recommend.

With every counseling session or after-service conversation, a pastor is recommending something. Sometimes it’s a book or a charity. Maybe it’s a bed-and-breakfast for that couple he can tell really needs to get away. And sometimes it’s simply Jesus.

With a blog, you can recommend something to hundreds of people instead of just a few. Some recommendations may be specific to certain people, but that seems like it would be rare. It’s more likely to be the case that if one man asks you whether you know of any good help for a pornography addiction, then dozens of other men out there also need to know, but aren’t asking.

Blog it.

Recommendation, however, is more than pointing people to helpful things. It’s a tone of voice, an overall aura that good blogs cultivate.

Blogs are not generally good places to be didactic. Rather, they’re ideal for suggesting and commending. I’ve learned, after I write, to go back and cut those lines that sound like commands or even overbearing suggestions, no matter how right they may be. Because if it’s true for my audience, it’s true for me, so why not word it in such a way that I’m the weak one, rather than them?

People want to know that their pastor knows he is an ordinary, imperfect human being. They want to know that you’re recommending things that have helped you in your own weakness. If you say, “When I struggled with weight-loss, I did such-and-such,” it will come across very differently than if you say, “Do such-and-such if you’re over-weight…”

If you use your blog to encourage people through suggesting and commending everything from local restaurants to Jesus Christ, it will complement the biblical authority that you rightly assume when you stand behind the pulpit.

4. …to interact.

There are a lot of ways for a pastor to keep his finger on the pulse of his people. A blog is by no means necessary in this regard. However, it does add a helpful new way to stay abreast of people’s opinions and questions.

Who knows what sermon series might arise after a pastor hears some surprising feedback about one of his 30-second-nuggets-of-truth?

5. …to develop an eye for what is meaningful.

For good or ill, most committed bloggers live with the constant question in their mind: Is this bloggable? This could become a neurosis, but I’ll put a positive spin on it: It nurtures a habit of looking for insight and wisdom and value in every situation, no matter how mundane.

If you live life looking for what is worthwhile in every little thing, you will see more of what God has to teach you. And the more he teaches you, the more you can teach others. As you begin to be inspired and to collect ideas, you will find that the new things you’ve seen and learned enrich far more of your life than just your blog.

6. …to be known.

This is where I see the greatest advantage for blogging pastors.

Your people hear you teach a lot; it’s probably the main way that most of them know you. You preach on Sundays, teach on Wednesdays, give messages at weddings, funerals, youth events, retreats, etc.

This is good—it’s your job. But it’s not all you are. Not that you need to be told this, but you are far more than your ideas. Ideas are a crucial part of your identity, but still just a part.

You’re a husband and a father. You’re some people’s friend and other people’s enemy. Maybe you love the Nittany Lions. Maybe you hate fruity salad. Maybe you struggle to pray. Maybe listening to the kids’ choir last weekend was—to your surprise—the most moving worship experience you’ve ever had.

These are the things that make you the man that leads your church. They’re the windows into your personality that perhaps stay shuttered when you’re teaching the Bible. Sometimes your people need to look in—not all the way in, and not into every room—but your people need some access to you as a person. A blog is one way to help them.

You can’t be everybody’s friend, and keeping a blog is not a way of pretending that you can. It’s simply a way for your people to know you as a human being, even if you can’t know them back. This is valuable, not because you’re so extraordinary, but because leadership is more than the words you say. If you practice the kind of holiness that your people expect of you, then your life itself opened before them is good leadership—even when you fail.

Conclusion

For most of you, anything you post online will only be a small piece in the grand scheme of your pastoral leadership. But if you can maintain a blog that is both compelling and personal, it can be an important small piece.

It will give you access to your people’s minds and hearts in a unique way by giving them a chance to know you as a well-rounded person. You will no longer be only a preacher and a teacher, but also a guy who had a hard time putting together a swing-set for his kids last weekend. People will open up for you as you open up like this for them. Letting people catch an honest glimpse of your life will add authenticity to your teaching and depth to your ministry,

Africa

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece

 

Great article highlighting humanity’s desperate need for a relationship with our Creator written by an atheist.