Friday, March 30, 2007

Al Mohler on "The Secret" - AKA the Cult of Oprah

I'm stealing the following from Dr. Albert Mohler. He's way smarter, far more articulate, and better informed that I on nearly every subject. That boy's smart! :-) Really though, this craze has been sweeping the nation via the Cult of Oprah.

False teachings emerge anew in every generation it seems, but inventing a new heresy is quite a challenge. After all, once every doctrine vital to Christianity has been denied, all that remains is a change in packaging.

That is what we see in the case of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, the nation's best-selling book. Millions of Americans are buying, reading, or talking about a book that repackages ancient paganism in the guise of positive thinking and mental energy. There is nothing here that is genuinely new (Byrne openly admits finding the "Law of Attraction" in a nineteenth century book). But, as the sales of The Secret now prove, a heresy does not have to be new to be attractive.

Americans have long been especially attracted to ideas associated with "New Thought," a movement centered in positive thinking and mental power. The New Thought promoters have promised health, wealth, success, comfort, popularity, and much more through the exercise of positive thoughts and mental focus.

Interestingly, USA Today published a report on the historical background to The Secret in the March 29, 2007 edition. As reporter Marco R. della Cava explained, the movement has deep roots and many contemporary representations.

From his article:

Oprah dedicated two shows to The Secret; Australian video producer Byrne has a roundup on how the mind can deliver a laundry list of goodies, from health to a helicopter. Saturday Night Live was quick to lampoon the book, while Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist Maureen Dowd invoked it while wondering if wishful thinking could lead to a change in the White House.

But such pop culture fascination leaves actress and minister Della Reese Lett laughing.

"Child, The Secret hasn't been a secret since the times of Moses, if not before," says the former Touched by an Angel star, founder and minister of the Understanding Principles of Better Living church in Los Angeles. "But every generation needs a new way to look at things that have been around a while. I suppose right now The Secret is it."

Della Reese Lett is "founder and minister" of her own New Thought congregation, known as the Understanding Principles of Better Living Church. According to the group's Web site:

Understanding Principles for Better Living is a teaching ministry geared toward meeting the needs of the total man/woman. We are among the mighty forces at work today to change man's thought about God. Through prayer, we reckon with the vital forces of spiritual hunger, shaking the foundations of all who come. We know that filling this hunger is the greatest need in the world today. We are the religion for the New Age.


Our basic message is that man, through his God-nature, can be the victor of circumstances rather than a victim of circumstances; that no matter what happens to him, man can learn to cope with and overcome any and all obstacles. At Understanding Principles for Better Living, we do not attempt to teach you what to think, but rather how to think so that you may go forth into the Infinite Mind and experience a revelation of Truth that is right for you.

The group teaches that "man can learn to cope with and overcome any and all obstacles" by going forth into the "Infinite Mind." Della Reese Lett may have been the star of "Touched by an Angel," but no angel in the Bible ever instructed humans to "go forth into the Infinite Mind." Not by a long shot.

Mr. della Cava correctly points to the similarities between The Secret and older New Thought movements, such as the Unity School of Christianity. As he explains:

Lett's church is one of hundreds of loosely affiliated metaphysical churches that have been around for more than a century. Their guiding principles are anchored to self-fulfillment via the power of the mind.

The number of American followers of these so-called New Thought churches (don't call them New Age) hovers around 200,000, which includes 100,000 who regularly attend the nation's 700 Unity churches, says James Trapp, CEO of the Association of Unity Churches in Lee's Summit, Mo.


What's particularly interesting about The Secret phenomenon is that beyond finding its way into millions of homes, it is in some instances getting the curious to step out of those houses and seek like-minded fellowship.

"We've got more people coming on Sundays than ever," says the Rev. Temple Hayes of the First Unity Church of St. Petersburg, Fla., whose small bookshop has sold 860 copies of The Secret. The church holds regular workshops using the book as a teaching tool.

Overall, services at First Unity have decidedly Christian overtones, with regular readings from the Bible and references to God and Jesus, although the latter isn't viewed as the Son of God. Communion is reserved for holidays such as Easter. Sunday staples include sermons (the preferred term is "message") and a moment of silence, which can be filled with any form of meditation.

"We teach people how to think, not what to think, and folks find that appealing," Hayes says. "But we do make sure to tell people that, while the mind is a powerful way to get what you want, you may face some pain along the way. Nothing comes easy."

We are told that First Unity Church has "decidedly Christian overtones" except for the fact that Jesus is not understood to be the Son of God. That is a big exception, to say the least. These groups borrow symbolism, selected texts, and public recognition from Christianity, but deny the core of the Church's faith.

Look closely at a claim that appears on the Web site of the Understanding Principles of Better Living Church and, most interestingly, is also offered by the minister of the Unity congregation. They both claim to teach how to think, not what to think. This statement implies that the groups offer no doctrine, merely a route to transformed thinking.

But the claim is false -- and must always be false. The distinction between how to think and what to think is artificial. It is sloganeering and advertising, not serious thought. Every pattern of thinking is based on certain presuppositions and leads to certain conclusions. A pattern of thinking that begins with relativism as a presupposition will inevitably (if at all consistent) lead to relativistic conclusions. In other words, when it comes to thinking, there is no how that does not include a what.

You cannot begin with the presupposition that you are the center of the Universe and then reason to conclusions that are in any way consistent with the Bible. You cannot get from the presupposition that you are a sinless victim of negative thinking to the conclusion that the cross of Christ is the answer to our deepest need. You cannot reason from the presupposition that you can cope with all your problems by the exercise of positive mental imagery to the conclusion that your greatest need is for a Savior. The how is a what when it comes to thinking about anything of importance.

Beware the movement that promises to teach you how to think rather than what to think. A moment's honest reflection should tell you what to think about that.

There are no new heresies, only heresies dressed up and repackaged for a new generation. New Thought is back -- but The Secret really isn't new.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Crossroads Church - Cyber Update 3/26/07

Cyber Update: March 26, 2007

Happy Spring! It won't be long until everything starts coming alive in our corner of the world. I love this time of the year - the birds start chirping, the fish start jumping, the grass starts greening up, and we Minnesotans start thawing out. Spring is all about LIFE.


Speaking of LIFE, our theme for Easter '07 is "Life Re-imagined". Do you ever wish you could re-do your life? Are there some areas of your life that you'd like to change? Easter is an opportunity to encounter a God who is very much alive. A God who specializes in transformation. I hope you'll come to our Easter event, and bring along several guests with you.

Easter '07 will be held this year in the gym at Park High School. We will hold 2 mega-services on Sunday only - one at 9 am and one at 11 am. We're doing this to open up parking and seating space for hundreds of guests.

We've been working on this event for months. I've never been more excited and pumped than I am right now. I know God is going to do great things. The music, media, and message are all geared to helping people encounter our life-giving, life-changing God.


We'll have Invite Cards available this weekend. There will also be an opportunity to send an E-Invite via our website.

We still are needing dozens of volunteers for this event. We're also purchasing lilies and live palm trees for the event. If you'd like to donate a plant/tree in honor of a loved one (which is yours to take home after the event), fill in the Insert this weekend or call the Office at 459-7111 for details.

Grateful for life,

Pastor Phil

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Return of the King

(From Kairos Journal)

13 In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV)

From the legends of King Arthur to J. R. R. Tolkien’s celebrated Lord of the Rings trilogy, the return of a rescuing king is a great theme in literature. It is also a central message of the Bible. All may seem lost, but the King is returning. Neither terrorism, the AIDS epidemic, political corruption, a runaway judiciary, nor poisonous media can prevent it; indeed, they invite it.

In Daniel 7, the prophet receives a vision—“one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” Because of its Messianic overtones, “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite self-designation, and the Daniel passage is a key Old Testament background passage for this title. Indeed, in Mark 13:26, Jesus quotes this passage when speaking of His own future return.

Daniel 7 is a powerful affirmation of Christ’s deity and lordship over all creation. The language of “authority,” “glory,” “sovereign power,” of being worshipped, of possessing an “everlasting dominion,” and of ruling over an everlasting “kingdom” indicate that the “son of man”—whom the New Testament reveals as Jesus—is the divine King of the universe. In the words of Colossians 1:16b-17, “All things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

The best of Christian thought has always challenged a temporal ruler’s claim to absolute authority. Because Christians affirm a sovereign God, no temporal ruler can ever be truly sovereign. Because Christians know there will only be ultimate and absolute justice in the future, they are skeptical of utopian fantasies. There is one king—Jesus—and the reality of His eternal kingdom and rule is a check on fantasies of governmental grandeur—whether at the local, state, national, or international levels (Rev. 1:5).

To preach and teach the reality of the kingdom of Jesus is to engage in a radical and profound public act, whether one knows it or not. When first-century Christians simply sought to worship the biblical God, and Him alone, they were engaged in a daring public act. For in refusing to worship the Roman emperor, they were questioning the social structure of the day. Church leaders of today should be willing to follow suit. Of course, it can be costly, as it was to the early Christians. But whatever intimidation they may feel at the prospect of cultural conflict, it pales beside the intimidation the world should feel at the promise of the Lord’s return. This is no context for pastoral anxiety; rather, it is strong warrant for pastoral confidence, that ultimately, the State is answerable to the glorified Church.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Geocodes for the Bible

(HT: Justin Taylor)
From the ESV Blog: "The folks at have geocoded the Bible. In other words, they went through the Bible and found the latitude and longitude of nearly all the places mentioned. They’ve produced satellite maps and KMLs (for Google Earth) for every book in the Bible that mentions a place, and KMLs for every chapter. Even better, all the data and maps are available under a Creative Commons license."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Northbrook Conference 2007

"The topic is crucial,

the speaker is excellent –

consider attending this conference."

- Mark Dever, Sr. Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church

Join us as we learn about Manhood and Womanhood in the Bible, in the Church, and in the Home.

Consider bringing your pastor, your congregation, or your small group to learn together and take the truth back to your local church.

The Northbrook Conference, Spring 2007

Northbrook Baptist Church

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

April 27-28, 2006

Biblical Manhood & Womanhood:

Different By Design

Guest Speaker: Dr. Randy Stinson

Executive Director, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Session details are coming soon.


2006 Fall Conference Audio

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Desiring God Conference Audio Highlights

Here is perhaps a little-known, but very helpful, resource on Desiring God Ministry's website.

Shortly after their fall national conference, they divided each speaker's message into a series of short audio excerpts based on the topic discussed in that section of the message. These excerpts are a helpful way to listen to a lot of different audio, on lots of different topics, without having to spend a lot of time.

For example, you can listen to a short, four-minute or so clip from David Wells on how "Fear in the West is Not of Being Unsafe, but of Being Unsuccesful," or a short clip from Tim Keller on how "If You Think You Understand the Gospel, You Don't."

You can see the full list of all 42 such excerpts on the 2006 national conference review page. Just scroll down to the "conference audio highlights" section.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Building (or Rebuilding) a Healthy Small Group Ministry

From Christianity Today.

7 important questions to consider
by Jeffrey Arnold

John 15:1-17; Acts 2:42

1. What is the vision for small groups at our church? This question is fundamental. Answering it requires asking two more questions. First, what is our overall vision for what small groups can and will do in our church? (And, What is our biblical basis?) Second, what kinds of people in our church can and must be reached by the small group ministry?

2. What kinds of groups will we utilize?

3. How will we "fill" these groups with people? People will go to the kind of group that best meets (and continues to meet) their needs. Consider how to recruit the people whose needs these groups will meet.

4. Who will lead these groups? Will we have a program of "apprenticing," where leaders-in-training get hands-on training? How will we discover and begin nurturing leaders?

5. How will we insure the growth of this ministry? What goals do we have for six months? How will we deal with a group once it has 12 members (or, how can we help groups to effect positive group splits)? How will we continue to recruit members and leaders for this ministry?

6. What kind of accountability will we require of leaders? What kind of ongoing training will we provide our leaders? What kinds of reporting will we require, and how often? What about periodic meetings? Who will oversee the ministry in general?

7. How can we communicate our unique ministry desires with potential leaders and members? Many churches with dynamic small group ministries will sit down with their answers to the above questions and "codify" them into a small group manual or a philosophy statement.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Study: 10 Factors for Church Plant Success

Below is an article from Christian Post. While the focus is on church plants, I think a lot of what is revealed is transportable to established churches as well. The BOLD is my doing.

A new study measured what characteristics vibrant, growing church plants share and listed 10 factors contributing to high attendance.

A new study measured what characteristics vibrant, growing church plants share and listed 10 factors contributing to high attendance.

The study was conducted on over 1,000 churches from 12 denominations and networks by the Center for Missional Research, a division of the North American Mission Board. The following 10 common factors, based on the combined four-year mean attendance of church plants, proved to be the best predictors for higher worship attendance.

Location is one significant factor. Church plants that start in school facilities show a distinct advantage in term of visibility, parking and low costs. In the longer term, churches that meet in movie theaters also exhibit higher attendance.

Second, the ministry factor. Reaching children is one effective way to reach families, according to the report. Special children's events along with outreaches around holidays and other opportunities attract crowds and help churches sustain attendance.

A third way to build attendance is to promote the church. Church plants with high attendance have mail invitations to services, programs and events and keep community awareness high.

Training new members is also key. Successful church plants not only provide training but also communicated clearly that the new members participate and find a place to serve.

On top of training, new members are also required to sign a church covenant. The covenant is a sign that new members take their commitment to the church seriously.

Church plants with vibrant attendance are also very intentional about financial stewardship. They receive financial compensation as well as health insurance, allowing them to focus on the church's growth and not their own basic needs.

Seventh, the staff factor. Church plants that have assessed staff for their suitability and have multiple staff from the start. The most successful church plants do not start out under-staffed, the study reported. And their planters are full-time.

Successful church plants do not just focus on their own church needs. Instead, they start at least one church within three years of their own plant. The study indicated that those who are sent out to start a new church are replaced and more are even added.

In addition to focusing on missions, building leadership is crucial to church plant growth. Church plants with higher attendance conduct leadership training, build their leadership base and delegate leadership roles to church members on an ongoing basis.

Tenth, the achievement factor. Church planters have a vision of what God wants to do and remain focused on accomplishing that. Thus, they achieve greater results and find greater satisfaction, according to the study.

The Center for Missional Research noted that these 10 factors would most likely lead to both numerical and spiritual growth.

The latest study is part three in a four-part series of studies on church plants. Other studies revealed a 68 percent survivability rate among church plants after four years and an increasing number of baptisms to 14 by the fourth year.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

John Ortberg on taking small groups to the next level

From Christianity Today.

No More Mr. Nice Group:
5 practices that take small groups beyond polite "sharing" to the disciplines that change lives.
by John Ortberg

God has entrusted us with his most precious treasure—people. He asks us to shepherd and mold them into strong disciples, with brave faith, and good character. I would not give my life to any church that was not serious about this calling—the transformation of human beings. God has decided, for his own good reasons, that people are not transformed outside of community.

Years ago, while on vacation, I was going to fix something on the grill. I made a pile of charcoal, I poured a few gallons of lighter fluid over them, and I started the fire. My son was just fascinated by fire, as most young boys are. He asked what I was doing, and I told him.

"There's something about the way these little briquettes are constructed that when you put them together, the fire glows and they get real hot. And if you isolate one it cools off quickly. It loses the fire. But when they stick together, there's fire, because they feed off each other. God designed them to work that way."

This fits what Dallas Willard has said about the Christian life: "Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence better than scattered individuals." Think about that. Personalities united—people in community—contain more of God and his transforming power than isolated individuals. We should not be surprised that transformation requires community; it's how God designed us.

When we are alone, it's easy to think, incorrectly, that we are spiritually advanced. I can watch a Hallmark commercial alone and find myself moved to tears. I tell myself that I am a very compassionate person. But when I spend time in community with a person who annoys me, it's amazing how quickly I experience "compassion fatigue."

In community we discover who we really are and how much transformation we still require. This is why I am irrevocably committed to small groups. Through them we can accomplish our God-entrusted work to transform human beings.

However, experience tells us that simply meeting with a small group does not automatically result in spiritual growth. There are certain practices that must be present, spiritual disciplines that must occur, to facilitate the transforming work of Christ in us. The presence of these things is what makes the difference between all-too-typical small groups, and life-transforming communities of spiritual formation.

What are these practices? I asked Dallas Willard that question once because he's forgotten more about spiritual formation and church history than I will ever know. His answer surprised me. He said, "I don't know." Rather than being discouraged, I saw this as a rare opportunity to discover something Dallas Willard didn't know. I launched into a time of deeper reflection and study.

After months looking at Scripture, reading church history, talking with respected people, and meeting with leaders of small groups, I don't think I have the definitive answer, but I have observed five essential practices:

Confession: remove the masks
We all wear masks. We hide from each other. It's part of our fallenness. That is why one of the most formative practices in a small group is confession. Confession is the appropriate disclosure of my brokenness, temptations, sin, and victories for the purpose of healing, forgiveness, and spiritual growth. Without confession we are a community hiding from the truth.

I know what it's like to do church with people who wear masks. I've attended very nice churches where people smiled, talked about their jobs or the weather, but never really removed their masks and revealed themselves.

I recall one couple, pillars of the church, whose marriage fell apart when the wife ran away with another man. The church was shocked; the couple had hid the reality of their troubled marriage for years. Another woman in the church was well liked by everyone, but one day she landed in the hospital to have her stomach pumped of the poison she had taken. She was so miserable she felt unable to face another day. And no one in the church knew.

I will not invest my life in a community that doesn't value truth and confession, and neither should you. Without confession we cannot accomplish our God-given calling to transform people.

Throughout church history, whenever God has done great things, confession has always been present. In the church, confession must be freely offered—never manipulated. A small group serious about transformation should be moving into ever deeper confession—removing masks to reveal our core feelings and fears, sins we still struggle with, and areas where we're not growing.

We need to avoid "confession killers" in our groups. These include the inappropriate use of humor. Some people are embarrassed by deep honesty, so they may mock the person confessing or diffuse the atmosphere with a joke. It sends a signal that this is not a safe place to confess, and the masks go back on.

Judgmental statements also shut down confession. I recall a small group where a man admitted his struggle with lust. That was a risk, and then someone else said, "I can't relate to that struggle at all." I wanted to say to that guy, What kind of hormonally challenged, repressed robot are you? His statement shut down an opportunity for new openness in the group.

To see real transformation, small groups must begin with reality. By removing our masks through the discipline of confession, we acknowledge the reality of who we are and open ourselves to God's transforming work.

Application: look in the mirror
James 1:23 says, "Those who listen to the word, but do not do what it says, are like people who look at their faces in the mirror, and after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like." A small group is a place for people to look into the mirror, discover who they are, and then ask, "How do I apply God's word to my life as it really is?"

As a teacher I am regularly astonished by people's ability to hear a sermon, nod at it, be moved by it, write it down, and then do precisely the opposite of what they heard. This frequent occurrence shows the extent to which people need painstaking, patient, and careful application of Scripture to their daily lives.

We may hear biblical instructions like be gentle, be loving, be faithful—but how do I actually apply that to my boss, spouse, or kids?

What would Jesus do if someone cut him off in traffic? Would he say, "I don't condemn you; go and sin no more"? Or, would he roll down the window and shout, "Woe to you, you whitewashed sepulcher, it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you"? What would Jesus do? A lot of people have heard about Jesus, but many have not been taught how to apply Jesus' teachings to their real lives. Small groups can address this gap.

What we desperately need are small groups to be schools of life. Imagine someone has a problem with anger—a small group leader should ask them: "What kinds of situations tend to get you angry, and how do you respond?" Give them some alternatives to sinful patterns of anger. Roleplay these situations in the small group. Then next week ask, "How did it go?" If they got it right, celebrate it. If they didn't, investigate what happened, and encourage them to do it differently next time.

If this kind of application doesn't happen in small groups, it may not happen anywhere, and people will not be transformed.

Accountability: stand on the scale
I have made certain commitments about food and exercise in my life, but how serious I am about those commitments is difficult to determine without measuring my progress. A scale serves as a tool of accountability for me. Am I achieving my goal, or am I missing it? Ultimately the scale reveals how effective I have been in living up to my commitment.

Small groups are the place for people to get on the scale and reveal how intentional they have been to pursue transformation into the image of Christ. William Paulson writes, "It is unlikely that we will deepen our relationship with God in a casual or haphazard manner." I think he understates it. People do not drift into full devotion to Christ. People do not drift into becoming loving, joy-filled, patient, winsome, world changers. It requires intention and effort.

But the default mode of the human heart is to drift. If a person has experienced real transformation, it's typically because someone else has cared enough to say, "I want you to live God's way, and I want to help you know if you are serious about it."

We need to make some key decisions on our journey of transformation: what are my commitments about prayer, about Scripture, about my use of money, about evangelism, about servanthood, about truth? Keeping these commitments requires a community of accountability to serve as a scale revealing how we're achieving our goals or missing them.

During the spiritual revolutions of 18th century England, the Wesleyan movement thrived on small groups. When those groups originally formed, they existed to hold people accountable to their commitments as followers of Christ. They gathered in little bands to ask one another how their obedience to Christ was going. History notes, however, that over the decades the focus of the groups shifted from accountability to vague "sharing," in the process the power of the revival was lost, and eventually the groups died out.

Guidance: follow the map
When people need directions to a place they have never been, they use a map. Too often when people have major life-forming decisions to make, they make them alone.

In every church there are people facing decisions about vocations, ministry involvement, finances, relocation, and relationships. How sad if they make these decisions without the benefit of community. Their decisions may be impulsive, emotional, based on too little information. The result is too many broken lives.

The small group is to be where we find guidance, where we help each other learn how to listen to God. Small groups who rely upon God's Spirit serve as a map for us when making important decisions. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster talks about guidance as a corporate discipline—something that groups should be doing together.

In the early church, the Spirit guided believers as a community. In Acts 13, for example, the church fasted, prayed, and listened to God. Then, in response to the Spirit's guidance, they sent out Saul and Barnabas to minister.

In Acts 15 the church faced a major decision about the behavior of Gentiles, and they listened to the Spirit's guidance so carefully that in the letter explaining their decision they were able to say, "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …"

Small groups should be places where people gather to hear God through prayer and listening. Every small group meeting should include the question, "Is anybody facing a significant decision this week?" And in community the group should seek the Spirit's voice for the person facing the decision.

Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., practices this discipline by what they term "sounding the call." When someone has a significant decision to make, the community enters a time of prayer and listening to God. They speak openly with each other about their sense of what God is saying. They take seriously the leading of the Spirit while avoiding any sense of superiority or control.

Encouragement: embrace each other
A hug is a gesture of love and encouragement. An embrace represents what we all need from a community of transformation. We need to know that someone is committed to us and loves us. That cannot happen when we are alone, and it cannot happen in a large gathering. It's going to happen through smaller communities.

Today small groups have the privilege of loving and accepting human beings for whom Christ gave his life. In these groups we can supply the love, encouragement, and embrace people need to continue their journey of transformation.

A long time ago I decided I wanted to talk to someone honestly about my temptations, where I had messed up. I wanted to practice the discipline of confession. So I asked my friend Rick if we could meet. By that time, I had known him for about ten years.

When we sat down together, I told him everything there was to tell about me—all of the darkest stuff and everything I felt the most embarrassed about.

When I got to the end my confession, I could barely look up at him. When I finally did, Rick looked me in the eyes and said, "John, I have never loved you more than I love you right now."

Those words were so powerful; they felt so good that I wanted to make up more bad stuff to tell him. To have someone know everything about me and still love me was truly life giving.

That kind of love is what we ultimately need in small groups to transform lives. We can make small groups so complex and difficult, we can build the perfect small group strategy, but if we do not have the love of Christ present, we are not really engaged in transforming people into his likeness.

Spiritual formation in community is mostly about loving people, and that is something we can do.

John Ortberg is teaching pastor of Menlo Park (Calif.) Presbyterian Church.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Building a Church Library - a great idea...

The following was in Bethlehem Baptist's weekly email called the E-Star.

Not just any book - Find out how to donate and the links to the North Campus Library Wish List and Amazon Wish List on the church website: Bring donations to the Library table at the North Campus on Sunday, March 18 or to the Downtown Campus Library. Questions? Contact the librarian at 612.455.3401 or e-mail Edith Carlson at edith.carlson@hopeingod The North Campus Library will host an Open House on Sunday, March 25 after services. Watch for details!
When you click on that link you find:

Do We Have A North Campus Library?

Not yet. Lord willing, the North Campus Library (NCL) will start in the fall of 2007. There is a small room available near the offices; however, at this point there are only a few books in the room.

We are waiting on God to provide the necessary funds for start-up costs. There is some money for the NCL in the 2007 budget, but it will cover only a portion of these cost. We'll need people to contribute toward this need. We will also need volunteers to do everything from assembling and putting up shelves to getting the resources ready to signing up to work in the library when it opens.

If you want to help get the NCL open, look at the NCL Wish List. Also, there will be a Volunteer Opportunity list available soon. Since it will take a lot of work to get it ready to open, we will need many people to help!

If you are interested in donating a book please follow these guidelines:

  1. Your may donate items in like-new condition that you already own and that are on the wish list above.
  2. You may purchase items that are on our Amazon Wish List.
    Note: Not all the items on our master wish list are listed on the Amazon wish list. This is because not all the items are available through Amazon and because it's time-consuming to enter all the items; more items will be added as some are purchased.
  3. Your may donate money through the offering.
    Just mark on your offering envelope the amount that is being donated to the "North Campus Library." Please do not donate by handing money to library volunteers.

Questions? Contact Edith Carlson, 612-455-3401 or email.

A simple, yet fantastic way to build a church library outside of the normal operating expenses of a church. When you expand as Bethlehem has (a new facility at their North site in Mounds View, and another to come in the South Metro area) you incur a lot of expenses, and things like libraries become casualties of cost over runs, even at good churches with great plans. Here is a creative way to get people (like me) who really enjoy resources like a church library to contribute to building that library. I like to buy books (ask my wife!), and would certainly sacrifice a couple of future personal purchases to build a significant library for my church. This money would come from my personal discretionary money rather than from my tithing so it is a real win for the church. It is also a great way for someone who would like to make a memorial gift to the church to contribute in a way that will endure for years to come.

Also, if you haven't heard, Bethlehem Baptist Church has completely redesigned their website. It's a 100% improvement.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A still raw nerve - Pastor's John Piper's father passed away...

For those of you who hadn't heard, Pastor John Piper's father passed away yesterday. Below is his personal journal entry as posted at Desiring God. Pastor Piper was able to leave Bethlehem Baptist to be with his father for his last few days.

Hello, My Father Just Died

By John Piper March 7, 2007

The following is John Piper’s journal entry narrating his father’s death on Tuesday, March 6, 2007.

The funeral is scheduled for Friday, March 9, 2007, at 2 p.m. at White Oak Baptist Church in Greenville, S. C. Visitation is 7:00-8:30 p.m. Thursday evening, March 8, 2007, at Mackey Mortuary on Century Drive in Greenville. All are welcomed.

John Piper will not be preaching this weekend at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007. 2 a.m.

The big hospital clock in room 4326 of Greenville Memorial Hospital said, with both hands straight up, midnight. Daddy had just taken his last breath. My watch said 12:01, March 6, 2007.

I had slept a little since his last morphine shot at ten. One ear sleeping, one on the breathing. At 11:45, I awoke. The breaths were coming more frequently and were very shallow. I will not sleep again, I thought. For ten minutes, I prayed aloud into his left ear with Bible texts and pleadings to Jesus to come and take him. I had made this case before, and this time felt an unusual sense of partnership with Daddy as I pressed on the Lord to relieve this warrior of his burden.

I finished and lay down. Good. Thank you, Lord. It will not be long. And, grace upon grace, hundreds of prayers are being answered: He is not choking. The gurgling that threatened to spill over and drown him in the afternoon had sunk deep, and now there was simple clear air, shorter and shorter. I listened from where I lay next to him on a foldout chair.

That’s it. I rose and waited. Will he breathe again? Nothing. Fifteen or twenty seconds, and then a gasp. I was told to expect these false endings. But it was not false. The gasp was the first of two. But no more breaths. I waited, watching. No facial expressions. His face had frozen in place hours before. One more jerk. That was all. Perhaps an eyebrow twitch a moment later. Nothing more.

I stroked his forehead and sang,

My gracious Master and My God
Assist me to proclaim
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of thy name.

Daddy, how many thousands awaited you because of your proclamation of the great gospel. You were faithful. You kept the faith, finished the race, fought the fight. “Make friends for yourselves with unrighteous mammon that they might receive you into eternal habitations.”

I watched, wondering if there could be other reflexes. I combed his hair. He always wore a tie. The indignities of death are many, but we tried to minimize them. Keep the covers straight. Pull the gown up around his neck so it looks like a sharp turtleneck. Tuck the gappy shoulder slits down behind so they don’t show. Use a wet washcloth to keep the secretions from crusting in the eyelashes. And by all means, keep his hair combed. So now I straightened his bedding and combed his hair and wiped his eyes and put the mouth moisturizer on his lips and tried to close his mouth. His mouth would not stay closed. It had been set in that position from hours and hours of strained breathing. But he was neat. A strong, dignified face.

I called my sister Beverly first, then Noël. Tearfully we gave thanks.

(For the remainder of this account visit Desiring God here)


The graciousness with which this was written is astounding. I honestly have no idea how Dr. Piper was able to pen this with the wound still so fresh.

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Visuwords - a new type of dictionary

Need a definition? Try Visuwords for a fresh approach to looking up words. It produces diagrams for each word you search for so that you can see how words associate.

The words Messiah and Sin are interesting. Let me know if you find any other good ones!


Monday, March 05, 2007

Mission and Commission: Building the City Within the City

(From Mars Hill - Shoreline)
by Christopher Thrower

I was born a P.K. (pastor’s kid) in Churchbridge, Saskatchewan, that giant rectangular province in the middle of Canada, which is close to the farthest reaches of North American civilization. Throughout my life I’ve watched my parents move from one funeral home to the next, pastoring a dying church until it finally burned them out through lack of growth and emotional stress due to the impossible demand to build a church that saw its glory days in the late 1950’s. We did this in Canada, and again in Moscow, Idaho, where I spent my Sundays coloring in the back pew while my Dad preached to the same small congregation, and as if that wasn’t enough, they’re at it again six years later shepherding an aged church over on the Tulalip reservation.

Not to say that there isn’t a place for that kind of ministry, there are plenty of aging believers who need a pastor to give them a leg up as they crawl, heaven bound, into their casket. But, though it may be a ministry, it’s just not missional. There are no births or new births, people get older and things just stay the same. And, I can tell you this because I’ve spent most of my life up until now attending churches like this, this kind of church setup is not at all uncommon. It happens when a growing Christian community decides to settle, numerically and spiritually, with where it is at; when a church decides to be a mission of community and not a community of mission. And so we have churches today that can be identified as belonging to one particular generation, I can walk into any local church congregation and judging by the music and clothing tell you exactly when (and probably why) that church stopped growing. One church has a full size organ, formal dress, and hefty hymn books; another church sports business casual, an electric keyboard, and an old transparency projector; and yet another wears torn jeans, plays acoustic guitars, and has a coffee stand in the lobby.

All dying churches have one thing in common; they all cherish their community more than they cherish Jesus’ gospel mission. They built their churches with themselves in mind rather than their neighbors and that is why they are slowly growing old and dying. Not necessarily because their clothing and music is out of date. I honestly think if any congregation, even the most un-hip, culturally irrelevant folks, could learn to love their neighbors, they would begin to see some spiritual and numerical growth. I believe that love for God and neighbor is absolutely essential to the health of every single church, including ours.


I've spent enough years of Sundays in churches that are funeral homes to know the truth spoken above. The rest of the post goes on to address specific things at Mars Hill Church (primarily the Ballard Campus) but I felt this was good enough to share. The church I am now part of seems to really get this idea and is impacting our communities in significant ways. How is your church doing on this? DT who reads here and from time to time comments here knows exactly what I am talking about when I say I know this problem all too well.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Strategic Learning

by Todd Rhoades

Churches, like other organizations, fail to develop because they don’t take learning seriously. In Becoming a Strategic Leader, authors Richard Hughes and Katherine Beatty show us how strategy ought to incorporate a learning process. Here’s an overview that adapts the authors’ ideas to the church.

1) Assess where you are. This requires collecting relevant info that makes sense of your church in the community. Go beyond mere attendance and income stats. Measure the percentage of regular attendees who are involved in ministry inside the church and outside the church. What percentage of adults is in a small group? How many new people have begun attending during the last year, and how many of these were non- or new believers? What are the demographics (age, gender, education, marital status, etc.,), and do they match the surrounding neighborhood?

2) Who are we and where do we want to go? Describe the aspirations of your church. Don’t do this as a lone ranger. Start with the pastoral staff, ministry leaders, and church board. List the vision, mission, and core values, and then see how you’ve lived these out during the last year—in your calendar and in your budget

3) Discover how to get there. Target the critical elements of a strategy. What will it take to get you from where you are now, point A, to where you want to get, point B? This may require you to look at other ministry models, read books, bring in a consultant, or take a trip to a church that’s accomplished something similar to what you want to accomplish. Most churches should avoid trying to model the mega teaching churches. We learn best from those who are one step ahead of us, and we teach best those who are one step behind us.

4) Take the journey. This means translating strategy into actions. What are the tactical ways that your plan is becoming incarnate? Do you ever go back to analyze what you’ve done to see if it truly reflects your values and vision and where you intend to go?

5) Measure your progress. What assessments have you developed that provide a good evaluation of how you’re doing? Ultimately, this begins the next cycle of a learning strategy because it provides input as to how you’re doing and where you need to go next in order to accomplish your mission.

These five components of a learning cycle, while basic, tend to be missing from the standard operating policies of most churches. Unless you can articulate specific ways that you address each of these five steps, assume that you’re probably not incorporating learning as part of your strategy. This is the sort of stuff that church boards and leadership teams should be involved with so they can provide guidance for the ministry implementers and help steer the ship in the right direction. Even Scripture says, “By their fruit you will know them.” (This article is the second in a four-part series on Becoming A Strategic Leader, Jossey-Bass.)

SOURCE: Rev! Online

Friday, March 02, 2007

How Many Americans Attend Church Each Week?

(I'm stealing this from JT)

How many Americans go to church regularly?

If you listen to the answers provided by major opinion research firms, the answer usually hovers around 40%. (National Opinion Research Center: 38%; Institute for Social Research’s World Values: 44%; Barna: 41%; National Election Studies: 40%; Gallup: 41%.)

But in recent years this consensus has been challenged. It seems that it’s more accurate to say that 40% of Americans claim to attend church regularly.

In 1998, sociologist Stanley Presser at the University of Michigan—whose “research focuses on questionnaire design and testing, the accuracy of survey responses, and ethical issues stemming from the use of human subjects”—co-authored a study entitled: Data Collection Mode and Social Desirability Bias in Self-Reported Religious Attendance, American Sociological Review, v. 63 (1998): 137-145 (with L. Stinson). Comparing diaries with actual attendance, they made the estimate that the actual percentage of Americans attending church from the mid-1960’s to the 90’s was about 26%.

One of the problem comes in how the question is asked in a poll. Different questions yield different results. For example, in a survey you might ask, “What did you do last weekend?” listing for the person a number of possible activities, including church-going. This will yield a very different response than if you asked, “Did you attend church last Sunday?”

One factor is that people often answer according to what they think someone like them wants or ought to do. So people tend to overreport on the number of sexual partners they’ve had and how much money they give to charity, and tend to underreport on illegal drug use and the like. Hence, church attendance is often inflated.

In 1998 C. Kirk Hadaway and P.L. Marler published an article in the Christian Century entitled, Did You Really Go To Church This Week? Behind the Poll Data where they examine many of these factors. The authors focused on individual counties in the US and Canada, surveying actual church/synagogue attendance and comparing it with random surveys they were conducting. They found that actual church attendance was about half the rate indicated by national public opinion polls. Their estimate for US actual church attendance is around 20%.

Dave Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, surveying only Christian churches (i.e., evangelical, mainline, and Catholic) has come up with a similar number. The percentage of Americans regularly attending church is 18.7%.

Olson has collected his findings in an eye-opening slide-show entitled Twelve Surprising Facts about the US Church. The 12 points cannot be copied and pasted, so I’ve reprinted them below, along with links to his charts and maps.

  1. The percentage of people that attend a Christian church each weekend is far below what pollsters report. (US percentage of population in worship on any given weekend in 2000)
  2. The percentage of people attending a Christian church each weekend decreased significantly from 1990-2000. (US worship attendance in 1990 and 2000 by percentage of population)
  3. Christian church attendance is between 1 ½ and 2 times higher in the South and the Midwest than it is in the West and the Northeast. (Percentage of population attending a Christian church on any given weekend in 2000)
  4. Only one state [Hawaii] saw an increase in the percentage attending church from 1990-2000. [California, Connecticut, Georgia, and Washington were close to keeping up with population growth.] (Increase or decline in percentage of population attending a Christian church on any given weekend 1990–2000)
  5. The percentage that attends church on any given weekend is declining in over two thirds of the counties in the United States. [Among the states with the highest percentages of declining counties were Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Carolina.] (US counties: Increase or decline in percentage of population attending a Christian church on any given weekend 1990–2000)
  6. Evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics are strongest in very different regions of the country. (maps for Evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics)
  7. Churches with 50–299 people in attendance are shrinking, while the smallest churches and larger churches are growing. (Decadal growth rate of churches by size category)
  8. Established churches, from 40–180 years old, on average decline in attendance. (Yearly attendance growth of existing churches by decade started)
  9. The increase in the number of churches is about one eighth of what is needed to keep up with population growth. (Net increase in number of churches in the US between 1990 and 2000)
  10. The church-planting rate has been declining throughout the history of our country. (Churches started per 1 million residents)
  11. Existing churches are plateauing and new church growth provides less than half of the growth necessary to keep up with population growth. (Attendance growth percentage of Protestant churches 1990–2000)
  12. If the present trends continue, the percentage of the population that attends church in 2050 will be almost half of what it is today. (Projected percentage of population attending church on any given weekend)