Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Men at their best"

Returning a church to biblical sanity

The Church Doctor site offers an excellent perspective on how and why churches get off track and their vitality dribbles away. Read the whole thing, but the heart is his 10-step program:

Ten Ways to Return Church to a Biblical Form of Sanity

  1. Take inventory annually.  Have a rummage sale of programs/activities. Offload 10%-20% per year. 
  2. Clearly articulate your purpose:  look closely at the New Testament. Ask, "According to God, what is the primary purpose of the church?"  Make sure all staff and leadership are on the same page.     
  3. Having defined your purpose, look at everything through the lens of focus.  (1) What contributes to the objectives of purpose?  (2) What supports objectives that contribute to the focus of purpose?  (3) What does not contribute to the objectives of focus?  (4) Which issues of category three need repair, redesign, or strengthening?  (5) Which issues of category three should be discarded?    
  4. Reflect on how intentional you are.  Take inventory, using a trusted and brutally honest accountability partner.  Equip your accountability partner to ask you, regularly, "What have you said 'no' to recently?"   
  5. If you add a program or activity to your church routine, ask the hard question:  "Is this the time to drop another program or activity?"    
  6. Ask your accountability partner to challenge your level of proactivity, as opposed to reactivity.  You can't avoid being reactive all the time in ministry.  Shoot for 80% proactive, 20% reactive.     
  7. Continually run the operation of church through the grid of light-weight/low-maintenance.  Develop a culture of asking, "Is this the simplest way to do this?  Or is it too complicated?  Too cluttered?  Too slow and inefficient?"   
  8. As a leader, what is the one thing you must do every week, no matter what else is going on in the church?  If you answered by describing some ministry you do (prepare a sermon, attend a meeting, teach a class), repent!  If you answered by describing a way you will multiply yourself (equipping and empowering others - as in making disciples), rejoice!    
  9. Review your church government - your decision-making process - through the lens of low-control/high-accountability.  How long, how much effort, does it take to come to conclusions and move to action?    
  10. Consider intervention - an outside consultant - to help redesign your church government to a biblical form of low-control/high-accountability.

The best German restaurant in Epcot

Well, it's the only one:

I ripped this shot off my son's FB page. He took it last night.

Many years ago when my family and I visited Epcot we had lunch here. Having lived in Germany from 1983-1986, my wife and I enjoy German cuisine.

The restaurant was a buffet. After we sat at our table an attractive, blonde young fraulein approached to ask what we wanted to drink. As you may know, the workers at Epcot's national areas are all from their respective countries. They enter the US on a work visa, work a year and then go home. Our Serviererin was therefore German and looked the part, German-style dress and all.

As she was bringing our beverages I still remembered enough German to tell her that my wife and I had lived in her country from '83-'86. Her response was polite but perfunctory; she had doubtless heard hundreds of times from guests who told her they had visited Germany or had lived there.

"Where did you live?" she replied in English.

"We lived in a small farming town not far from Giessen called Dorf-Guell."

Her mouth dropped open and her eyes grew wide as saucers. "My brother plays soccer for Dorf-Guell!" she exclaimed.

Before long she was sitting down with us and we had a kind of "old home week" and we swapped reminiscences of the very small town and the local area. Finally, she had to get back to work, so we  said goodbye as she rose from the table.

"I am so glad to have met you!" she gushed. "It was so good to talk with someone from home!"

Of course, we were not from her home, but I knew what she meant and thought so, too.

What are the odds?

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Why Methodism?

Christian Perfection: The Reason for Methodism
Wesley argued for and preached on entire sanctification, full sanctification, or Christian perfection (these are all synonyms) throughout his ministry. In the essay “The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained”, which was published in 1746, Wesley argued that “holiness… is religion itself” (Works, 9:227). Forty years later in “Thoughts upon Methodism”, he described Methodism as follows, “Methodism… is only plain scriptural religion, guarded by a few prudential regulations. The essence of it is holiness of heart and life” (Works, 9:529).

Wesley defined Christian perfection in “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” (1777) as follows:

In one view, it is purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God. It is the giving God all our heart; it is one desire and design ruling all our tempers. It is the devoting, not a part, but all our soul, body, and substance to God. In another view, it is all the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked. It is the circumcision of the heart from all filthiness, all inward as well as outward pollution. It is a renewal of the heart in the whole image of God, the full likeness of Him that created it. In yet another, it is the loving God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves (Works, Jackson, 11:444).
Read the whole thing.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Bart Ehrman Creates Stir in Atheist Community

Bart Ehrman Creates Stir in Atheist Community Over The Existence of Jesus

Bart Ehrman is one of the world's leading scholars on the history of ancient Judea during the time of Jesus, with a focus on the development of the early Christian community. He is by his own account not a Christian. Yet is his refutation of persons who contend that the Christian proclamation is fictional or analogical to other ancient myths is just devastating.

For example, the charge that Jesus is himself a fictional figure:
“Few of these mythicists are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine. There are a couple of exceptions: of the hundreds — thousands? — of mythicists, two (to my knowledge) actually have Ph.D. credentials in relevant fields of study. But even taking these into account, there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world. And it is no wonder why. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.”
Read the whole thing.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Are we ready to reach unchurched people?

As we start considering what planning we need to do for our future, one thing we will need to face fully an a real, instrospective questions. One of them is, "Are we, as a congregation (including the pastor!) really ready to reach out to unchurched people and receive them into our wider church life?"

A definition is called for. People who write about evangelism generally refer to "unchurched" people as those who are not part of a Christian fellowship and never really were except perhaps very temporarily. As for people who were longer-term participants in a church but who do not presently attend, I have usually seen them referred to as dischurched. These are awkward constructions, of course, and places labels on people that they may not agree with or like. Nonetheless, I think the distinction is important.

Here are three articles that are relevant to this topic:

15 characteristics of today's unchurched person

How to reach unchurched people who think they don't need God.

9 signs your church is ready to reach unchurched people

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Donate to UMC Tornado Response

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is one of the only relief organizations that guarantees that 100 percent of your donation goes directly and exclusively to relief, none to expenses or overhead.

The link directly to the tornado response donation page is here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Yeah, that's how it works

My uncle, Prof. Rob Foy in Minnesota, died recently and a memorial was printed for him by his university, found online at "Please Remember Dr. Robert (Rob) C. Foy II in Your Prayers."

Rob was the husband of my mom's sister, Nancy. Rob was a "formidable landscape gardener," at which he labored with Nancy (who died in 2002):
The division of labor was simple: He did the work; his wife nodded her approval.
Yeah, most of us married guys have that arrangement.

"Kids begging their parents . . ."

Kids begging their parents to go to church beats parents begging their kids to go to church. Invest in your family ministry environments. Chad Ward, UpStreet director at one of the North Point campuses shared this. So true. Get the kids, and you’ve got the parents.
Read the whole thing.

To which I would add my own observation: out of 100 married couples, if the wives join a church about 20 of their husbands will join, too. But if the husbands join, at least 80 of the wives will. 

Why does Church seem much more inherently attractive to men than women? It is not because men are somehow less religious than women - synagogues and mosques are full of men, who also occupy most to all the leadership roles. 

Maybe there are so many "church widows" because for several decades most mainline Protestant denominations, through their seminaries, have presented Christianity as rather effete.

15 Things You Need to Know about Unchurched People Today

15 Things You Need to Know about Unchurched People Today

Read the whole thing.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Just takes a little effort!



20 Hidden Ministry Killers

20 Hidden Ministry Killers

Probably more accurately, "Church killers." Read the whole thing, but here they are as a simple list:
  1. Denial of portents of the future
  2. Comfort in the status quo
  3. Tradition for tradition's sake
  4. Mission focused inward, not outward
  5. Programs overemphasis
  6. Discipleship immaturity
  7. Relationships primarily within the church
  8. Shallow - avoiding hard dialog and tough questions
  9. Life -  abusing a church because of our anger over our life issues.
  10. Tenure - thinking that length of time in the church equals increased authority
  11. Attractional - being focused on output (I confess that the author's explanation of this one seems a little opaque to me)
  12. Churched - not understanding or even being interested the unchurched
  13. Demographics - the congregation is dissimilar to the parish area
  14. Drift - losing sight of God's purposes in the present day
  15. Dull - failure to inspire and going through religious motions
  16. Leadership - same people doing the same things over and over
  17. Management - without a vision, using a management mind set
  18. Museum - confusing the Church with the church building, and mis-setting priorities accordingly
  19. Money - spending more on the facility than discipleship or evangelism
  20. Anxiety - facing change with fear rather than confidence in the Holy Spirit
The author concludes, "These types of hidden factors cause tens of thousands of congregations in North America to fail to transition, change and transform following their first generation of life."

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Those Pre-Christian Deities Aren’t Much Like Jesus After All

And in many cases, are not pre-Christian at all. I touched on this in, "Reasons to disbelieve Jesus rose from the dead." Skeptics of Christian faith say that the story of Jesus is not much different from scores of pagan religious stories about savior figures.
However, experts in the field are not making this claim. Professor Norman Geisler of Loyola University explains, “No Greek or Roman myth spoke of a literal incarnation of a monotheistic God into human form by way of a literal virgin birth, followed by his death and physical resurrection.”
Furthermore, “Most of the evidence for the alleged similarities from the pagan myths date between the second to fourth centuries,” long after the New Testament had been written. If anything, most of those ancient myths are likely based on Jesus rather than the other way round.
 Comes now a detailed look at the Mithra myth and its relationship (if any) to Christianity. See Those Pre-Christian Deities Aren’t Much Like Jesus After All. Mithra, as it turns out, was likely based on Jesus rather than the other way round.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why we should stop being a "welcoming" church

We Will No Longer be a Welcoming Church
We’ve decided to quit being a welcoming church. No kidding. We’re giving it up. It won’t be easy, but we’re committed to it. We’ll have to do it in stages, easing our folks into it step by step. We’ll have to deal with the fear of something new, the challenge of venturing into the unknown. But we’ll do it. It will take motivation, leadership, and constant reminders. But most importantly, it will take total commitment in embracing a new focus.

Like so many churches, we’ve sunk an amazing amount of time and energy into becoming a welcoming church. We changed worship styles, we trained greeters and ushers, we wore name tags, we percolated coffee, we went to workshops on hospitality, we put our friendliest people in the most prominent places on Sunday mornings. But we’ve realized we’ve been misplacing our emphasis. So we’re no longer going to do it.

Here’s what we’re doing instead. We are becoming an Inviting Church. That’s different. You see, “welcoming” from a missional perspective is passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we attempt treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable. We’ll be willing to change who we are. We’ll follow particular formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t. Welcoming is about us, not about them.

“Inviting,” however, is different. That means we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.
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Monday, May 6, 2013

Why do more women than men flock to the Church?

Why do more women flock to the Church? - Telegraph:

Good question with no answers that will make anyone comfortable.

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Is There A God or was it all just chance?

Is There A God? (What is the chance that our world is the result of chance?)
So compelling, in fact, has become the case for the universe as the product of a conscious creator that astrophysicist Hugh Ross, a former post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology observes (in his book The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God) that:
“Astronomers who do not draw theistic or deistic conclusions are becoming rare, and even the few dissenters hint that the tide is against them.  Geoffrey Burbidge, of the University of California at San Diego, complains that his fellow astronomers are rushing off to join ‘The First Church of Christ of the Big Bang.’”
For those not familiar with “the Big Bang,” this cosmological event, now almost unanimously regarded as fact in the scientific community, constituted the beginning of the universe about 14 or 15 billion years ago, and bears eerie similarity to the biblical account of the universe’s creation.  As Arno Penzias, the 1978 Nobel Prize recipient in physics, stated to the New York Times on March 12, 1978:
“The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.”

Do Christ’s divinity and resurrection defy common sense?

Do Christ’s divinity and resurrection defy common sense?

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

What happened to Jesus' body?

The entire Christian religion stands or falls on the resurrection of Christ. With no resurrection, we could follow Christ’s teachings and ethics and live fairly good, decent lives. But in the end, Paul says, it wouldn't matter. In the end there would loom before us the cold desolation of the grave and our loss to eternity. If Christ is not raised, we have put our faith in a falsehood. We would have begged for God’s grace on the basis of something untrue. We are still trapped by our sins and have no way out. Truly, we would be pitiful.

But in fact, Christ was raised from the dead. Indeed, Jesus’ resurrection is the central event in all human history. The resurrection is God’s ultimate saving act in the world. All gifts of grace from God are intended to bring us to believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised and to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. Having made that confession, God’s grace leads us to live as Easter people.

We are redeemed by God's grace through our faith in Christ because God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God’s self. Saving faith is in the living person of Christ. Jesus’ teachings are not the object of our faith. Jesus’ miracles are not the object of our faith. The accounts and testimony about Jesus in Scripture are divinely inspired, but the Bible is not the object of our faith. The Christian faith is faith in Jesus Christ as the risen one.

This faith is not merely acknowledging that the resurrection happened. The apostle James observed that even hell-bound opponents of God acknowledge the truth about God. Merely assenting to the truth of the claims of Christianity isn’t the point. Saving faith is to stake one’s life on the Christian claims. It is to place the person of Jesus Christ at the center of one’s own identity, the center of one’s relationship with God and others.

One of the historical facts of the first Easter is that Jesus’ tomb was found empty  and that no one ever explained what happened to the body. Last week I said we still don’t know. While that is true in a forensic sense, it is not necessarily true in a spiritual sense.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it – 1 Cor. 12.27
No one of us dares claim that he or she is the body of the risen Christ, but we do declare it together as a church. Jesus of Nazareth was God embodied on earth. The Christian church is Christ embodied on earth. If this claim is true, then within our church we should be able to see, hear, feel and do what Jesus did. So let’s look at what Jesus did, and see whether we embody them now.
  • Jesus pointed to God. If there is anything that always bursts forth in the life of Christ, it is Jesus’ extraordinary God consciousness. Jesus did not know God as some cosmic clockmaker who wound the universe up and then went on vacation while creation runs on its own. For Jesus, God was Abba, Father. Actually, it really means “Daddy.” Jesus knew and declared a God of incredibly close relationship to human beings.
  • Jesus proclaimed the Word of God. In his preaching and teaching, Jesus’ overriding message was to return to God. God is to be worshiped and praised, but just as importantly, God is to be honored. To honor God calls for more than worship and praise. It requires a reorientation of life and society. It is a call to justice and reconciliation.
  • Jesus suffered and died. He did not turn away from doing God’s will even at the cost of his life. Jesus’ suffering was not the point of his ministry, but it was unavoidable to carry out his ministry, because the entrenched powers of the world opposed the godly life Jesus proclaimed.
  • Jesus shared his table with his friends. There are one hundred references in the gospels to Jesus eating. In Jesus’ community, table fellowship was one of the chief signs of the Kingdom of God. Jesus knew that it is not possible to cross swords with someone who shares your bread. It is at table that families are formed, which is why our monthly fellowship meals are literally godly gatherings.
  • Jesus befriended the poor and the marginalized. Some people in his day had been discarded by society’s mainstream. Widows, the poor, prostitutes, sinners of every stripe and women generally found that all doors were shut to them. Jesus took them in and made them citizens of his kingdom. He brought in the powerful and privileged, too. He left out no one, even a thief hanging on the next cross over.
  • Jesus healed the sick. People came to Jesus when they had no other hope. They sought Jesus and Jesus sought them. In God’s grace and God’s power, Jesus healed them.
  • Jesus prayed. Jesus was a person of continual inquiry and confession with God. Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. Prayer is the most intimate speech a human being can have. It is to pull open one’s soul before the ultimate keeper of the soul. Jesus prayed in gladness, in action, in love, in despair, in agony and in the last breath of life. There was no circumstance or occasion that Jesus did not pervade and surround with prayer.

There are many more things Jesus did, of course. I’m not trying to make an exhaustive list. When the Christians in Corinth read Paul’s letter reminding them that they knew Christ had been raised, I think some recollections of Jesus’ life like this must have been remembered. And in remembering, they saw in themselves the risen savior, because they did, however imperfectly, what Jesus did.
  • The church points to God. The church calls the world to God and reveals God as one who can be known and admitted into close relationship with every human being. The church proclaims the word of God and worships God. The church honors God in its work for justice and reconciliation. The Word and work of the church calls society to live as God intended.
  • The church suffers and sometimes dies. It is almost incomprehensible that the Christian faith and its works flourish where its persecution is greatest. While we in America don’t suffer for our faith, our brothers and sisters in Christ in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, China and many other places are being imprisoned or killed today because they proclaim Christ.
  • We share our table with one another. More than that, we share our food with the hungry. The works of Christian relief agencies have staved off starvation in Bangladesh, Africa and South America. In any American city today, Catholic and Protestant missions are all that stand between many poor people and terrible hunger.
  • The church brings in the poor and offers comfort to the sinners of the world. We are all sinners, yes, but there are many people who have become so entrapped in sin and falleness that the secular world would just drop them from sight. But inside prisons and drug-rehab centers, in the lives of the chronically homeless, we find the church.
  • The church heals the sick. It was not an atheist association that built Baptist Hospital or St. Thomas hospital. Around the world, medical relief missions work to inoculate children, conquer disease and improve preventive medicine practices in third world countries. Mother Theresa’s order of Sisters of Mercy was the last hope for countless thousands of the lowest caste of Indians suffering in the gravest crises. It is no coincidence that Mother Theresa was a disciple of Jesus Christ and not of some pagan deity or secular humanism.
  • The church prays. We remain in continual confession and inquiry before God. In the sum of our prayers we bare the world’s soul. We overcome life’s tragedy because we know that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that no thing that exists or can be imagined can block us from approaching God with confidence in his mercy.

There is one thing left. Jesus loved. Jesus was the supreme lover of all time. It is in this love we find Christ’s greatest presence. Without this love we are lost and empty; with it we are a holy people, fit for God’s works. Our love does not evoke the sappy sentimentality of simple romanticism or the giggly goofiness of erotic titillation.

Our love is patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or proud, it is not rude or self-serving or easily angered. Our love keeps no record of wrongs. Our love protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Our love never fails. In our faith we have hope, but our love is greater than faith or hope. Our love reaches out instead of turning in. It builds up rather than knocks down. It values and cherishes rather than degrades or derides.

The Corinthians knew, and we know too, that this love does not—could not— come from ourselves. It is far greater and deeper than anything we could bring forth. We know we did not have this love or live this life until we encountered the Gospel and took the chance that maybe the most fantastic of all tales could really be true: that the tomb really was empty and that Jesus really does live. 

The Corinthian Christians are long dead, the apostles have turned to dust. But generation after generation of Christian people have suffered, healed, prayed and proclaimed, all on a single declaration, that Christ is raised.

What happened to Christ’s body? Well, look around you, look around. Here it is, all of us together.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Reaching out: The difference between critics, seekers and doubters

Why The Church Needs Apologetics: A Look at Critics, Seekers, and Doubters

Even though apologetics is seen throughout the Bible, we are sometimes seen as exalting reason to a place that was never intended or we assume apologetics is the sole catalyst as someone’s conversion. I bring this all up because I am presently enjoying reading Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment by James Taylor. Taylor lists three kinds of people who we will encounter when doing evangelism. If anything, if we do evangelism and encounter people in these categories, we should see why we need apologetics in the Church. Taylor says when dealing with people, many people may fall into various categories such as:
1. Critics: those with criticisms of the Christian faith who are not open to the possibility of its truth. Critics need to be answered to neutralize the effects of their criticisms on seekers and doubters. 
2. Seekers: people who are open to our faith but are prevented from making a commitment primarily because of honest questions about the Christian claims. 
3. Doubters: are Christians who find it difficult to believe one or more tenants of the Christian faith with complete confidence. Doubters need to be restored to full Christian conviction by giving them the tools to remove their doubts.
In own experience, I run into a lot of #1′s. 

The Problem with the Christian Explanation

Earlier this month I explained the reasons to disbelieve Jesus rose from the dead. A week before that I explained the five historical facts that must be accounted for to reject that Jesus was raised.

Comes now retired detective J. Warner Wallace, who says,

As a detective, I’ve come to recognize that any explanation of an event in the past has its own set of virtues and liabilities. Even in my own cases, when I’ve gathered the evidence, reconstructed and articulated an account of criminal events, and successfully prosecuted a defendant in a case, I’ve always been aware of the liabilities and evidential deficiencies in my explanation of events. No case is perfect. All cases have unanswered questions. All cases have strengths and weaknesses. Juries are able to make decisions in spite of this reality because they reach a point of evidential sufficiency and conclude that the liabilities are outweighed by the strengths of the case. They also come to accept one explanation as superior to the rest. 
So as I examine the Christian explanation for the Resurrection, I am quick to recognize its strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, it accounts for the minimal evidences thoroughly (and it also accounts for a much larger set of evidences related to the Resurrection as described by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus). On the other hand it suffers from what some would say is an insurmountable liability: 
A supernatural event (like the resurrection) must be possible in order for the disciples to be correct about their observations related to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Read the whole thing at The Problem with the Christian Explanation | Cold Case Christianity.

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