Thursday, November 30, 2006

Americans — Cheap or Charitable?

(From FotF's "Pastor's Weekly Briefing")

Opinion on whether Americans are cheap or charitable depends on who is expressing their views. Former President Carter, U2 singer Bono and Angelina Jolie say we are cheap.

However, America is made up of 300 million individuals and their contributions far exceed what the government gives. Our private philanthropies make us one of the most generous people in the world, says Carol Adelman at the Hudson Institute.

Arthur Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University and author of Who Really Cares began research to claim that liberals are the most generous — but found the opposite to be true. "People who attend a house of worship give four times more money per year than people who don't," noted Brooks. "The fact is that Americans give more than the citizens of any other country. They also volunteer more." According to Brooks, individually, Americans per capita give about 3½ times more money per year than the French, seven times more than the Germans and 14 times more than the Italians. Americans gave $260 billion away in charity last year — that's about $900 per person.

"Brooks' research is a breath of fresh air for conservatives tired of being lambasted by liberals as selfish," remarks Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for American Values. "Despite all the bad press that the liberals and elitists like to give people of faith," she said, "the truth is, that those Christian values of tithing, of helping the poor, of seeing the needy — these things motivate the community of faith to give and to give generously and to give above and beyond the call."

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Overcoming Sin and Temptation - John Owen

Justin Taylor offered up a second book for review, a book he coedited with Kelly Kapic. Justin has been involved with getting more resources from John Owen available on the web, and this book was (I suspect) a logical move from that work.

The key work by Taylor/Kapic was updating Owen's language into that which can be understood by the modern reader. Owen was a very deep thinker, and having that depth compounded by a difficult translation from old English to modern English was more work than many (myself included) were generally inclined to do with regularity. Taylor and Kapic found a reasonable balance with updating the language while keeping the original authorial intent. I might have gone a step further in a number of places, but that I probably why I'm not paid to do that sort of thing!

Prior to this book, I had known of John Owen, mostly through the work of Justin Taylor on his blog and elsewhere on the net, and a sermon by John Piper. I greatly appreciated this book, in that there is a great amount that is transportable into our own lives. I found myself challenged over and over to re-examine my own walk with Christ on how deal with my own sins and temptations. This is a subject relevant to every Christian, though I don't think that this book is at a level that all Christians would appreciate it. That is unfortunate, not that the book is deep, but that not all Christians are ready for this level of thought and truth and forced examination of their own walks with Christ.

This book actually consists of 3 different writings of John Owen. Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, and Indwelling Sin are the three different writings used for this book. All three pair together in thought and writing style well. While I have not read the originals, it seems as though Taylor and Kapic have used a light had in their editing/updating of these texts. Many difficult segments they have chosen to leave as original have footnotes that accompany them to help clarify. This is where I would be most likely to have gone a step further, as I am one who really dislikes bouncing back and forth to footnotes - it breaks my flow of reading and train of thought to have to do it. A very minor nit picky issue I know, but as a whole I didn't get too far off track since the content is so good.

Owen's writing is laden with a treasure trove of scriptural references. Thankfully the editors have collected these into a single reference at the back of the book (Scripture Index). This is something I have no doubt I will return to in the years to come in my ministry as I continue to grow in these areas, as well as coach and teach others on these subjects.

An example of something I really found as excellent among this book is the following from page 153:
Grace and corruption
lie deep in the heart; men oftentimes deceive themselves in the search
after the one or the other of them. When we give vent to the soul, to try what
grace is there, corruption comes out; and when we search for corruption,
grace appears. So is the soul kept in uncertainty; we fail in our trials. God
comes with a gauge that goes to the bottom. He sends his instruments of trial
into the bowels and the inmost parts of the soul, and lets man see what is in
him, of what metal he is constituted.
Hard hitting, but deeply profound and true. The book is filled with things like this.

I would highly recommend this book. It would be a great gift to a pastor if they do not already own it. The jewel of Owen is matched quite nicely with the efforts of the editors to make his writings more approachable to the average person. Just beware that this book will likely make you very uncomfortable about your faith. It is like a spot light shining into the darkness of our own personal sins.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

A few weeks ago, Justin Taylor sent forth the call for bloggers to review a couple of books for him, one of which was Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. I had previously done this for Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, and was excited for another opportunity to read such good material.

First, I should preface this by stating that prior to reviewing the book I had purchased and viewed (some) the DVD's of the conference from which these books came from. I had also listened to the MP3's of the conference as well, so getting a chance to brush back up on it and see some nuances would be a good thing for me. I love watching and listening to things, but often I find that with deep or challenging subjects I need print in front of me. That is the way I learn best in most cases.

This book was a hard read for me. Hard on many levels. First, because I have been so blessed to have lived this long with such a small amount of pain and suffering in my life. I am clothed, well fed (too well fed!) and relatively healthy by most of the world's standards. I read things like this, and am pained by other people's suffering. The joy though is that this pain is shown to be endured with God's glory in the mind of the authors, in ways that I frankly cannot fathom at this stage of my life. I appreciate the first hand telling of suffering, but it makes it hard to read because it is painful to read of these sorts of suffering. I also love the credibility that inherent with first hand accounts of suffering. I think this method is especially powerful to a post-modern cultural context as a means of great connecting points. I suspect this was at best a secondary thought or concern on the part of any of the authors, but it nonetheless is another tool that might serve useful in this context.

The first portion of the book is subtitled: The Sovereignty of God in Suffering.

In light of Pastor John Piper's recent go around with prostate cancer, his words seem laden with experience and meaning, and through it all he points to God. My only possible critique would be that the early part of the book seems somewhat dominated by the thoughts and theology of Dr. Piper. I say that not as a criticism in that it is bad, but in that having some additional voices added into the text might have been helpful, especially on subjects that were less about the experiential aspects of suffering. Dr. Piper is always clear and concise throughout his writing, but it still nice to hear other voices. That is probably why I am not payed to be the editor :-)

I appreciated the clarity of Mark Talbot in his addressing suffering in relation to the issue of Open Theism. I have long known that the root of Open Theism is the desire to "solve" the problem of pain and suffering in the context of the Christian faith. Having been on the outside edge of this controversy as it raged through the Baptist General Conference a few years ago, I was pleased to see Mark Talbot stick to a clear presentation of his beliefs in a positive way.

The second part of the book is subtitled: The Purposes of God in Suffering.

Perhaps my favorite line from the whole book came from this section. It comes from Stephen Saint, and he says:
But what I do advocate is that suffering is an important prerequisite to ministering to hurting people.
These words seem to ring true down to the depths of my toes in the context of my reading this book. It is something I have to consider, in that I hope to shortly be in full time ministry and will undoubtedly be dealing with people who are hurting in ways I have yet to imagine or experience. It scares me that I might need to suffer some before I am fully equipped to be a good shepherd of a church or part of a church. I have over the past year had the painful opportunity to see from a distance a pastor friend learn this very hard lesson as his family coped with a young daughter suffering from (and hopefully recovering from!!!) Leukemia. There is no way he would ever choose that, but I have no doubt he will have learned many deep things that I have not yet had the painful opportunity to come to terms with.

The third segment of the book is subtitled: The Grace of God in Suffering.

These final three chapters are a powerful testament of God's Grace in our lives as we suffer. I must confess that in watching the DVD's, I found Joni Eareckson Tada's segment the least appealing to me. In reading her chapter, it seemed far more interesting and relevant to my understanding of both God's Grace as well as what suffering is. I have heard her speak on a number of occasions but this is the first time reading anything of hers. The passion she has flows from the pages into the person reading the book. I really think that ending the book on her thoughts and ideas on hope springing forth from suffering was the perfect conclusion. It is a tough read emotionally, and to have it end on a high note like that seems to tie it all together very nicely.

One of the appendices contain Dr. Piper's sermon/writing of "Don't waste your cancer". This is a great addition, and something that seems perfectly suited as an appendix for a book on this subject. It seems to be far too good to leave out, but fitting it in elsewhere might have taken away from some of the other thoughts that were being developed.

The book is not a quick read (especially not Dr. Piper!) because it is a heavy subject, and it is heavily scriptural. This is not a gloss over on the subject, nor is is flim-flam presentation of "God wants you to be happy, healthy and wealthy" that is so present on things like TBN.

I would highly recommend this book with a single caveat - read this book with someone else. I read this book solo, and really felt the need to decompress with someone after some of the deeper and heavier parts. I think that reading this with another person would open an enormous amount of conversation, as well as helping each person to fully deal with their thoughts on the subject. It is far too easy to skip through some of the uncomfortable parts, but with someone else holding you accountable you will likely see far greater effects in your life from this book.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Next Adult Generation "Busts" Traditional Morals

(From FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

A new survey on the moral and sexual values of the "Buster Generation" — those between the age of 23 and 41 — was just released by the Barna Group. This survey compared the values of the Busters with their parental counterparts — the Boomers.

Values have certainly shifted. Busters are over four times as likely to not believe in absolute truth. Almost half of the Busters viewed their standard of morality to be based on "what is right for the person."

In addition to these more relativistic "standards" for reality, more than 75 percent of Busters saw cohabitation and sexual fantasies as morally acceptable. Most young adults also say that sex outside of marriage and viewing pornography are not morally problematic; almost a majority believed same-sex relationships are acceptable.

And this new generation of adults practices what it preaches. Busters were 2.5 times more likely to have had a sexual encounter outside of marriage. They were also twice as likely to use profanity in public, lie, steal, take revenge and physically assault another person.

Is there a difference between Christians and non-believers in the Buster generation? Not really. Eight of the sixteen criteria matched the secular population almost identically. When it was different, the moral view of the Christian Busters more closely resembles that of non-Christian Boomers.

David Kinnaman, vice president of the Barna Group observes, "The research shows that people's moral profile is more likely to resemble that of their peer group than it is to take shape around ... a person's faith."

Mr. Kinnaman had some prescriptive advice for church leaders everywhere: "It is important ... to understand the natural skepticism of Busters, as well as their desire for spiritual and conversational depth. Young adults do not want to hear ... monologues about moral regulations. You have to understand each person's unique background, identity and doubts and must tangibly model a biblical lifestyle ... beyond the walls of the church [in order to earn access to their hearts]."

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth

The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood have put together a new web site based on Wayne Grudem's book Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth.

God created us, male and female, in His image.

So what does that mean?

Has the modern church suffered a tragic loss of the beauty of manhood and womanhood as created by God? Has the feminist influence within today's evangelical church led to a rejection of the effective authority of the Bible? In this reasoned, comprehensive response to more than one hundred controversial claims from evangelical feminists, biblical scholar Wayne Grudem answers these questions and examines the egalitarian perspective on every major doctrinal issue, including:

* What the Bible says about the roles of men and women in marriage
* Women in the church and in church leadership
* Theology and the concepts of equality, fairness, and justice
* Claims that a complementarian view as harmful

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

To Tithe or Not to Tithe

(From FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

A Christian author says churches that teach tithing as a mandate is a "growing scandal." In his new book, Should the Church Teach Tithing?, Russell Earl Kelly insists that tithing was never biblically commanded as a moral principle of the New Covenant to the Church. Although he supports freewill giving, he states that a mandatory 10 percent is unscriptural.

Tithing, as Kelly describes in four ways, is the tenth part of produce or other income, free-will offerings, ten percent of gross income or, on a specific biblical note, an ordinance of the Mosaic Law for the use and benefit of the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant. He stresses the "biblical fact" that the poor did not pay any tithes.

"Circumstances are different from household to household. God understands," wrote Kelly in his book. "The grace principle of 'equality giving' refers to giving as much as one is able. That does not mean that everybody is to give the same percentage." He also recognized, however, that "compulsory giving cannot possibly produce the level of giving which is prompted spontaneously by the Holy Spirit when the gospel is preached with power and authority!"

Kelly goes on to criticize churches for teaching tithing out of context as a biblical mandate. "No Christian is under any curse of the Old Covenant Law! It is simply unethical to preach 'out-of-context proof texts about tithing' sermons only from Malachi and Genesis 14."

Research among clergy and laity found earlier this year that, while most ministers say Christians are under a biblical mandate to tithe, most people in the pews do not believe the same. Congregants are also equally split on whether tithe should be based on net income or gross income. And both ministers and churchgoers are mixed on where tithing should go — whether it's limited to religious organizations or open to any organization regardless of religious connection or lack thereof.

A recent study, "The State of Church Giving Through 2004," found that giving by church members has decreased from 3.11 percent in 1968 to 2.56 percent in 2004. Both are well below the 10 percent tithe.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Crazy day at Crossroads Church

Today was a Crazy day at Crossroads Church in Cottage Grove, MN. Crazy in a good way. One year ago this church embarked on a campaign to change their friends, families, community, region and world. Crossroads is a church doing great things, but a church enormously limited by their facilities. So limited that the Sr. High School students cannot meet on campus, instead they meet down the road in another church where space is rented. But in spite of those space constraints, the church has continued to grow. Over a hundred people have come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior as a direct result of this church's ministries.

So they started a campaign, and called it Crazy. Crazy is raising millions of dollars above and beyond the normal church tithes and offerings. This money is being used for multiple things, first a new building, but more on that in a bit. Second, it is being used to buy books to help kids learn to read and enjoy reading more. Over $100,000 is going directly to local schools to buy books and items to help children read (District 833). Thus far $30,000 has already been given, and as contributions come in, donations will continue to be given to schools. Additionally $10,000 was contributed to a local elementary school to put the school over the top in fund raising for a new playground for the children to play on. I looked at the playground on the way home from church, and it is very nice, almost enticing me to want to play on it.

Another important component of the Crazy campaign is a partnership with World Vision to impact a community in Swaziland Africa. They are building a clinic, helping educate children, and digging wells to ensure people have clean and safe drinking water. More than 1/3 of the population of Swaziland is infected with the AIDS/HIV virus. Hundreds of thousands of children are orphaned, and most people live on less than $1 per day there. Poverty and destitution at levels most Americans cannot imagine. So the church is sending money and supplies, sponsoring children through World Vision, and taking missions trips to make a difference as part of their Crazy campaign.

Back to the new building. The current facility seats roughly 350 people, and the new one will seat 800 with plans to eventually expand to 1200 seats. The first stage will be 45,000 square feet, with room and plans to add on as finances allow and needs mandate. The first stage will also include space so that the High School students will be on campus again, and room for adult ministry for the first time in years.

Today was a day to focus on being Crazy. Pastor Phil Print re-vision cast the idea of Crazy in all church services this weekend. He clearly defined and reminded why they are doing this, to share Christ with the world. As part of this weekend long focus the church gathered this afternoon at Grey Cloud Elementary and rode buses to the site of the new facility.

At the new facility in Woodbury (or as it is currently known, the soybean field) there were prayer walks and hay rides. There were "tours" of the future facility that was flagged out with construction tape (though not to scale). And of course there was hot chocolate, cookies and all the coffee you could drink!

People took rocks and wrote the names of their friends, family and coworkers who do not know Jesus and placed them in a pile near where the future alter for the new sanctuary will be. There was a time of prayer for those people, and a commitment by those in attendance to work to bring them to the church and help in any way possible to share the love of Christ with them.

All in all, a great day. Crazy things are going on, and with God's blessing they will continue in ways we can't yet imagine!

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Biblical Qualifications of an Elder or Pastor

From Mark Driscoll's Blog:

17 Qualifications of an Elder-Pastor from 1 Timothy 3:1–7

Relation to God

* A man – masculine leader

* Above reproach – without any character defect

* Able to teach – effective Bible communicator

* Not a new convert – mature Christian

Relation to Family

* Husband of one wife – one-woman man, sexually pure (this does not require a man to be married, as Paul, Timothy, Jesus, and widowed men could qualify)

* Has obedient children – successful father

* Manages family well – provides for, leads, organizes, loves

Relation to Self

* Temperate – mentally and emotionally stable

* Self-controlled – disciplined life of sound decision-making

* Not given to drunkenness – without addictions

* Not a lover of money – financially content and upright

Relation to Others

* Respectable – worth following and imitating

* Hospitable – welcomes strangers, especially non-Christians for evangelism

* Not violent – even-tempered

* Gentle – kind, gracious, loving

* Not contentious – peaceable, not quarrelsome or divisive

* Good reputation with outsiders – respected by non-Christians

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Various Christian News Stories...

(from FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

Bishop Doubts Jesus Is the Only Way

Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori, the first female presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, doesn't consider Jesus Christ as the only way to God, reports the Associated Press. "If we insist that we know the one way to God, we've put God in a very small box," said Jefferts-Schori. The Bible declares that "in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" and Schori doesn't believe that "one person can have the fullness of truth in him or herself." Instead, she says, "Truth is, like God, more than any one person can encompass."

Eight Episcopal dioceses have asked Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who heads the world Anglican Communion, to put them under a leader other than Bishop Jefferts-Schori.

Cross Removed from College Chapel

Melissa Engimann, an administrator at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., has elected to remove a cross from the altar area of their chapel "in order to make the Wren Chapel less of a faith-specific space and to make it more welcoming to students, faculty, staff and visitors of all faiths." Engimann wants to ensure the space is seen as a nondenominational area.

The cross was in place because of the school's former association with the Anglican Church. Though the college is now nondenominational and became publicly supported in 1906, school officials said the room will still be considered a chapel and the cross can be returned for those who want to use it for their events.

Over $1.3M for Church-Planting Misused

Over $1.3 million designated for church-planting was misused by three pastors in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, according to the Associated Baptist Press. The results of the investigation conducted by a Brownsville attorney revealed that between 1999 and 2005, funds that were designated for starting new churches were used instead for book printing and other general church ministry. Some funds were also deposited into a personal account, but no evidence was found that any BGCT staff received any money for personal gain.

The three pastors had reported that 258 new churches were started but the investigation discovered that about 98 percent of those churches no longer exist or never existed. Last week, a day before the findings were revealed, the former director, and the associate director of the BGCT Church Starting Center resigned their positions.

Virginia Man Rehired (10/27/06):

Luis Padilla — who was fired from his job for having painted on his pickup a sign that read, "Please vote for marriage on Nov. 7" — was rehired and is expected to be back at work on Monday.

"This was all a big misunderstanding," said Wesley Carter, general manager of Cargill Foods' Timberville, Va., plant, where 40-year-old Luis Padilla is employed as a human resources clerk.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Greg Boyd and Jim Wallis at Bethel University

Wallis-Boyd Event Draws Large Crowd: Audio Now Available

The Benson Great Hall was filled beyond capacity on Monday October 23rd as the Bethel Student Association hosted "Faith and Politics: Should They Mix?" with Rev. Jim Wallis (author of God's Politics and president and founder of Sojourners/Call to Renewal) and Greg Boyd (author of The Myth of a Christian Nation and senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church). Click here for audio of the Wallis-Boyd event as an MP3 file or click here for streaming audio using RealPlayer.

Earlier this year Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz) also spoke at the college as a part of the college's chapel service . Click here for audio of Donald Miller's presentation as an MP3 file or click here for streaming audio using RealPlayer.

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Presentation Service for Justin Irving - Rooted and Relevant

Yesterday I had the opportunity and honor to serve as an usher for Justin Irving's presentation service at Bethel Seminary. Justin was interviewed, and approved for being a full professor last Spring by the Seminary Board of Directors. I was Justin's Teaching Assistant in the Transformational Leadership Department last school year after a couple of years of TA'ing for the Preaching Department. The service was very well attended and was quite enjoyable. All the professors come robed in their doctoral gowns, as do the President of the University (George K. Brushaber) and the Provost of the Seminary (Leland V. Eliason). Samuel "Sammy" Wanyonyi and Jeffery Fritz read scripture (Psalm 96 and Philippians 2:1-11 respectively). Robert Alderman (InMinistry student) and Patty Kark (a friend of Justin's family) led a wonderful time of worship where we sang "Sing to the King" "In Christ I stand" and "How great is our God". We also sang "How Great Thou Art" later on following Justin's presentation address.

Justin gave a speech titled "Rooted and Relevant: Compelling Leadership for Changing Times" where he talked about trends in servant leadership and engaging the postmodern culture through servant leadership. This was a small glimpse into his Ph.d dissertation.

Justin is a great addition to the professors at Bethel Seminary. He is bright, well spoken, well red, and most importantly sincerely and fully committed to Jesus Christ. I expect great things from Justin, and hopes he takes the mantel from other great leadership professors (Mark W. McCloskey for example) and pushes this area of the Seminary to grow and improve.

Justin has taught at both Northwestern College (Roseville, MN) and Bethel Seminary. He did his undergraduate work at Northwestern College (Psychology and Bible), his M.Div at Bethel Seminary (In New Testament with both Greek and Hebrew!), and his Ph.D at Regent University, Vancouver (in Organizational Leadership). His Ph.D dissertation examined the relationship between servant leadership and the effectiveness of teams.

Congrats Justin!

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