Sunday, November 29, 2009

Maine Churches Being Threatened

Gay activists in Maine are urging people to report churches that supported Question 1 — the initiative that restored the definition of marriage to one man and one woman — to the IRS. According to the activists, these churches should be investigated with the possibility of losing their tax-exempt status. The Alliance Defense Fund has offered free legal assistance to churches being singled out. []

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Significance of Spiritual Activity as a Child

With all of the time, money and effort that parents and churches invest in the spiritual growth of children, we find ourselves often wondering if there is really any statistical connection between childhood faith and adult religious commitment. A recent study by the Barna Group provides new insights into the age-old question.

The survey asked adults to think back on their upbringing and to describe the frequency of their involvement in Sunday school or religious training. The researchers then compared these responses to the current level of faith activity of these adults.

More than 80 percent of adults remembered consistently attending Sunday school or some other religious training before the age of 12. Seven out of 10 adults (69%) said they attended such programs weekly.

About 70 percent also recalled going to Sunday school or other religious programs for teens at least once a month. Half (50%) indicated they had gone to such teen programs at least once a week when growing up.

In connecting childhood and teen engagement with adult spirituality, the Barna team used four elements of adult religious commitment: attending church, having an active faith (defined as reading the Bible, praying and attending church in the last week), being unchurched, and switching from childhood faith.

"Those who attended Sunday school or other religious programs as children and teens were much more likely than those without such experiences to attend church and to have an active faith as adults," concluded the report. Fifty percent of those who attended such programs as a child said they have attended a worship service in the last week, which is slightly higher than the national average and much higher than those who did not attend such programs as children. Among those who frequently attended religious programs as teens, 58 percent said they had attended a worship service in the last week.

Being unchurched or changing from one's childhood faith were also correlated to early-life spiritual experiences. The study asked if people had the same faith perspectives today as when the were children or whether they had ever significantly changed their views. Twenty-two percent of those who recalled frequent religious attendance as children had changed their faith views from those held as a child. Among those who attended religious programs as teens, 21 percent had changed their core faith views.

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, noted, "It is important to clarify what this research does and does not indicate. First, correlation does not imply causation. This means that the research does not prove that spiritual activity as a young person causes spiritual engagement as an adult. In fact, the research confirms the pattern that many students who are active in early life disengage from their faith as they get older. And people's recollections of childhood activities are only one limited way of understanding faith durability. ... [However,] it provides clarity that the odds of one sticking with faith over a lifetime are enhanced in a positive direction by spiritual activity under the age of 18."

(from FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Worst and Best States for Unemployment

Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., now have unemployment rates higher than the national rate of 10.2 percent. The 10 states with the highest unemployment rates, by percentage, are: Michigan (15.1), Nevada (13.0), Rhode Island (12.9), California (12.5), South Carolina (12.1), Oregon (11.3), Florida (11.2), Illinois (11.0) and North Carolina (11.0). The 10 states with the lowest unemployment rate, by percentage, are: North Dakota (4.2), Nebraska (4.9), South Dakota (5.0), Montana (6.4), Vermont (6.5), Utah (6.5), Virginia (6.6), Iowa (6.7), New Hampshire (6.8) and Kansas (6.8). []

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Our son's dedication at First Congregational Church of Waseca, MN

We dedicated our son, Justice, last Sunday at First Congregational Church of Waseca, MN. Both sets of grandparents were there for this which was really nice. Special thanks to Mr. Al Judd for helping with the ceremony and issuing the charges!

Recession Affecting Food Banks

Hunger relief advocates came to Congress last week and painted a bleak picture of a country struggling to meet an increased need for food assistance at a time of high unemployment. Soup kitchen workers are seeing new faces in line and charities are taking more calls for help.

"In our 42-year history, we have never witnessed a demand for our services like we are seeing now," said Josh Fogt, public policy manager for Northwest Harvest in Seattle — Washington state's largest food bank. The organization receives more than 2,500 visitors on busy days, up from a peak of 1,800 early last year, Fogt told members of the House Ways and Means Committee. "Hunger relief is truly a growth industry and we are increasingly being asked to do more with less."

Charities and nonprofit groups called on lawmakers to give people tax incentives to donate to charities, expand federal nutrition programs and spend more on programs to help people prepare for work. The congressional hearing on food banks followed an Agriculture Department report that more than one in seven households struggled to put enough food on the table in 2008 — the highest rate since the agency began tracking food security in 1995. That's about 49 million people, or 14.6 percent of U.S. households, counted as lacking the food for an active, healthy life. The 17 million households represented by these figures is up from 13 million the year before.

In October, the Catholic Charities of Central Texas' food pantry fed 2,637 people — its largest monthly number, the agency reported. Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada saw its number of food bank clients double from July to September, compared with the same period last year.

Candy Hill of Catholic Charities USA said local agencies are getting more requests from first-time clients. The Catholic Charities office in Youngstown, Ohio, is getting 70 calls a day for help with food and utilities — up from 100 a month last year, Hill said. "It will not only take government being our partner, but it will also take all of us — corporations, philanthropy and individual donors — to solve the extreme problem of hunger in our country today." [The Associated Press]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

The Manhattan Declaration

Intro to the The Manhattan Declaration:

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


Christians are heirs of a 2,000year tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.

While fully acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages, we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by rescuing discarded babies from trash heaps in Roman cities and publicly denouncing the Empire’s sanctioning of infanticide. We remember with reverence those believers who sacrificed their lives by remaining in Roman cities to tend the sick and dying during the plagues, and who died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord.

After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16 th and 17 th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines.

In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish the rule of law and balance of governmental powers, which made modern democracy possible. And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement. The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.

This same devotion to human dignity has led Christians in the last decade to work to end the dehumanizing scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery, bring compassionate care to AIDS sufferers in Africa, and assist in a myriad of other human rights causes – from providing clean water in developing nations to providing homes for tens of thousands of children orphaned by war, disease and gender discrimination.

Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good. In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.

You can find the whole document HERE.

I signed it, and would invite you to consider doing so as well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eagle Brook Church looking to add more campuses

My friends at Eagle Brook Church (the largest church in Minnesota!) continue to do great things for the Lord! I wanted to share a note that was emailed out by Pastor Bob Merritt to the church recently about some expansion they are looking to start - a couple of new Eagle Brook Campuses in Blaine, MN and Woodbury, MN!! If you are looking for a great church to be part of, Eagle Brook Church is an outstanding option. As is the church of Bob's friend Phil Print - Crossroads Church. These are the last two churches my wife and I attended before I took my first call as a Senior Pastor in Waseca, MN. And in the spirit of openness it should be noted that I was teaching assistant to both Bob Merritt and Phil Print while I was at Bethel Seminary. I can vouch that both men are the real deal, and quite honestly even if I didn't know these guys I would still love their church and their ministries!

Dear Friends,

It’s late fall and I have yet to pull a trigger or release an arrow; I’ve had to live vicariously through the emails and photos of friends who keep me posted of all their hunting exploits. What’s kept me out of sloughs and tree stands is Not Without You, and normally I’d have an itchy trigger finger, but I’ve gotten so pumped up last week’s View From Here events with individuals who want to make an advance commitment that I when I hit the pillow at night I can’t sleep. I don’t know if we’ll meet our goal of $33 million, but the momentum and excitement that’s building is like caffeine in my veins and I can’t shut it off. God has a hold of my heart in a way that’s never happened before in a campaign.

We have a campus in Blaine in our sights by fall 2010. But some people have asked me “Why Woodbury?” Woodbury opens up a whole new demographic to us. We have 453 families who travel from Woodbury, and dozens of others from Hudson, Stillwater, Afton and Cottage Grove. The problem is they can’t invite their neighbors and friends to church because it’s tough to invite someone to a church that’s 30 miles away. Last year my friend Phil Print opened a new church, Crossroads, in Cottage Grove, just on the southern border of Woodbury. And he’s begging us to come to help reach that side of the Twin Cities. Even if all the churches in Woodbury would be filled every weekend, they would be reaching only one tenth of the population. Woodbury is dying for a church like Eagle Brook to reach the thousands of families, single adults and professionals who don’t go to church anywhere. I’m really excited about bringing that hope to the east metro within the next couple of years.

And I’m so proud of how our church has been able to bring clean water, medicine and leadership training to an entire region in Mozambique, Africa. The level of support our church offers to World Vision in Mozambique is the second largest in the United States. We want to be able to continue to assist the poor through Not Without You. And we’re still bringing leadership to hundreds of pastors in Norway where only 2% of the population goes to church. But we’re starting to see that turn. In a very real way, Eagle Brook is a lifeline to the spiritual future of Norway.

We have two weekends left in the Not Without You campaign, and November 21/22 is Commitment Weekend. Laurie and I are going to make the largest financial commitment we’ve ever made to anything in our entire life because we believe so firmly that God is in this and we don’t want to miss it. So get ready for a great celebration; prayerfully decide how you will respond, and I urge you to make it sacrificial – a sacrifice is a level of giving that will affect your living. Do it for God, do it for your family and friends; most of all do it for those who will be reached when we can open our doors in Blaine and Woodbury.

Keep sending your photos of dead stuff,


PS: If you want to help lead the way and make an early commitment, you can do that online today. Plus, it’s great to hear what’s happening in our kids and student ministries. They’re getting involved too! Be sure to talk with your kids about Not Without You, and how they can be a part of this great thing that God is doing—and reach their friends.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Teaching children to be grateful and generous

Gimme, Gimme!

On Christmas morning, after devouring Mom's legendary homemade sticky buns, the Stevens family gathers around the Christmas tree. The three kids — Danny, 10, Molly, 8 and Christopher, 6 — excitedly begin opening their presents.

Their parents' joy soon turns to dismay as they observe the children's behavior. Like hungry sharks in a feeding frenzy, Danny, Molly and Christopher greedily rip open each gift only to toss it aside, searching for another package bearing their names.

Particularly troubling to Sharon and Rick Stevens is that none of the kids acknowledges the relatives who sent the gifts in the first place. They show zero interest in opening the cards attached to the gifts. After each child opens the final gift, all three continue to search for still more presents, making comments such as "Is that all I get?" or "How come Molly got more presents than I did?"


Unfortunately, the Stevens' experience is common. In a materialistic, consumer oriented culture, we face a real challenge in teaching thankfulness and contentment to children. They are conditioned to believe they are entitled to everything they want — now! Kids have also come to believe they should always get the biggest and best.

The Center for a New American Dream reports another disturbing trend known as the nag factor. Its recent surveys found that nearly 60 percent of kids nag their parents for a toy or a privilege even after being given a no. In fact, 10 percent of all 12- and 13-year-olds admit they will beg their parents more than 50 times for products they've seen on TV.


Christian parents are called to cultivate character traits such as thankfulness, generosity and self-sacrifice. The Bible commands us, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Jesus warns us, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). And Paul describes greedy people as idolaters who will not inherit the kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:5).

One of the most effective ways to combat the cultural mind-set is by modeling a grateful attitude. Verbally thank God on a regular basis, even for simple things like a roof over your head and food.

Also, do your best to model gratitude in your other relationships: friends, relatives and co-workers — and not only when they do something special for you. Let others know how much you appreciate them simply for who they are. Express that kind of unconditional gratitude to your spouse and children as well.


You can help your kids learn to be generous by serving others who are less fortunate. Christmastime is ideal for service projects. Your family might volunteer to serve Christmas dinner at a local rescue mission or visit residents at a nursing home, singing carols and delivering Christmas cookies.

The majority of children receive a boatload of new toys each year. They soon lose interest in most of these toys, which wind up collecting dust in a closet, basement or storage bin. One family I know has instituted a Christmas tradition in which each of their kids chooses several of his or her old toys to donate to a homeless shelter or a local charity. They deliver the toys as a family the week before Christmas, so their children can see where their toys are being donated and experience the joy of giving away their possessions.

Christmas also provides an excellent opportunity to start sponsoring a poor child in a developing country through an organization such as World Vision or Compassion International. Our family sponsors a little girl in Indonesia. When our children are old enough, we plan to take a short-term missions trip to Java to meet her.

Finally, while your kids are still on vacation, set aside an afternoon for them to write handmade thank-you notes to the friends and relatives who gave them gifts. Even young children can participate by decorating simple cards with crayons, stickers and rubber stamps. Make this a family project, as you help your children learn to develop the "language of gratitude" through words and pictures.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Read and Share Bible - The Story of Christmas

I received a copy of Read and Share: The Story of Christmas from Thomas Nelson Publishing free for review the other day.

Overall, I felt the book did a respectable job telling the Christmas story at a level that children could understand it. I have minor quibbles with what was omitted to make the story fit their needs, but nothing of theological significance. The wording is such that preschool age children could easily follow along if you read it to them.

The authors stick to the Biblical story line of the birth of Christ, starting in Luke 1:5 with the birth of John the Baptizer and finishing with Matthew 2:23 where Joseph, Mary and Jesus return from their exile in Egypt. The artwork is very simple, but in a warm and friendly way that most children would enjoy. The authors presented a clear message and I would recommend this book. I liked the story presentation well enough that I am even planning on using it during worship services at my church this coming Christmas!

With the book comes a bonus DVD is the best part of the book. The DVD is the videos of six stories from the life of Jesus. These come from the larger series of the Read and Share DVD Bible - Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, and Volume 4. I watched the segments, and quite frankly was sucked right in. Even as an adult. Even as a pastor. The book is a condensed version of the story told in the videos, but the video tells the story much better. While I recommend the book, I really recommend the videos. If you have young children you are trying to share the Bible with, this is a great set of tools to aid you in that process.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hosanna Lutheran in Lakeville speeding up their exit from the ELCA

I'm afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg. It will be interesting to see if any whole synods choose to move - conservative places like South Dakota for instance. I know I have family members who are very conflicted over the direction the ELCA is going (a large portion of my family is ELCA, I spent my first 19 years in an ELCA church for the record).

From the Star Tribune today:

Lakeville church speeds exit from ELCA

The second-largest Lutheran congregation in Minnesota has decided that it is not going to wait any longer to withdraw from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) over the denomination's August vote to permit gay preachers.

The second-largest Lutheran congregation in Minnesota has decided that it is not going to wait any longer to withdraw from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) over the denomination's August vote to permit gay preachers.

In his November newsletter to the members of Hosanna Lutheran Church in Lakeville, the Rev. Bill Bohline said that the church is going to scrap its original plan to wait six to eight months before taking action. Hosanna was one of the first Twin Cities churches to speak out against the August vote.

"What has become clear to me is that we have been preparing to leave the ELCA for some time," Bohline wrote. The church board will meet next week to map out its exit strategy, with the goal of severing its ties to the ELCA on or before Dec. 15, he added.

With an average Sunday attendance of about 4,500, Hosanna is second in size among ELCA churches only to Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Legislation Protects Women and Girls From Sex Traffickers

Gov. Don Carcieri (R.I.) signed legislation closing a loophole that made indoor prostitution legal in the state — essentially a "welcome mat" for sex traffickers. The three bills included in the legislation end Rhode Island's status as the only state that allowed indoor prostitution (brothels) statewide. It is legal in some counties in Nevada. The legislation also extends rights to women and girls who are victims, giving the police the tools to intercede and interview victims and to be able to put them in touch with social services. Victims are often arrested, imprisoned and then coerced back into the sex trade. A provision was added that says no victim of trafficking can be convicted of a prostitution offense. The legislation also prohibits minors from working in strip clubs. [,]

Monday, November 09, 2009

More on the Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life

Planned Parenthood Director Quits

A Planned Parenthood® director has resigned from a Bryan, Texas, clinic after witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion. Abby Johnson, 29, said she had a "change of heart" and knew it was time to leave after she watched a fetus "crumple" as it was vacuumed out of a patient's uterus in September. "When I was working at Planned Parenthood, I was extremely pro-choice," said Johnson. But, after seeing the internal working of the procedure for the first time on an ultrasound monitor, "I would say there was a definite conversion in my heart ... a spiritual conversion."

Speaking of her bosses, Johnson said, "Every meeting that we had, [it] was, 'We don't have enough money, we don't have enough money — we've got to keep these abortions coming.' It's a very lucrative business and that's why they want to increase numbers." She also noted that her bosses told her to change her "priorities" and focus on abortions, which made money for the office at a time when the recession left them hurting.

Planned Parenthood petitioned the district court to issue a temporary restraining order against Johnson and against the Coalition for Life, a pro-life group with which Johnson is now affiliated. "We regret being forced to turn to the courts to protect the safety and confidentiality of our clients and staff. However, in this instance, it is absolutely necessary," said Rochelle Tafolla, a PP spokeswoman. Johnson said she had no intention of releasing any sensitive information about her former patients at the clinic.

Without a doctor in residence, Johnson's clinic offered abortions only two days a month, but the doctor could perform 30 to 40 procedures on each day he was there. An estimated $350 for each abortion could net the branch up to more than $10,000 a month. Johnson said, "Ideally, my goal as the facility's director is that your abortion numbers don't increase because you're providing so much family planning and so much education that there is not a demand for abortion services. But that was not their goal."

A hearing is set for Nov. 10 to determine whether a judge will order an injunction against Johnson and the Coalition for Life. []

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Things you will NOT see in my church...

Gimmick Brings in Church Attendees

The Lighthouse Church of All Nations in Alsip, Illinois, has raffled a combined $1,000 to attendees in their three Sunday services over the last month. Not surprising, the attendance has dramatically increased from 1,800 to 2,000.

"I make no bones about that [i.e., being gimmicky]," says Rev. Dan Willis. "But, if I could get someone who would not normally come to church, why not?" For Willis, reports the Southtown Star, the cash is a mere carrot to get you through the doors. By sowing the seeds of responsible personal finance, he hopes to create a few converts.

To pique interest, several weeks ago, Willis hung a silver lockbox from the ceiling above the pulpit. "What's in the box?" was written on a nearby sign. When the first service of the series rolled around, Willis opened the box and $100 bills spilled out. He explained his plan: One lucky person would win $250 at each of the two Sunday services. If a special theme played during the service, the prize would double to $500.

He speaks from the perspective of someone who's been there. While trying to build the church from a tiny storefront 32 years ago, he maxed out 23 credit cards. "Here I was trying to do God's work and I had all these lines of credit open. God gave me a plan and I became completely debt free, other than my home mortgage." To help his members resist the temptation of easy credit, Willis placed two shredders at the front of the church and more than 500 credit cards were fed through the machines in a three-week period.

The raffle has been a small part of the sermons. The topics that Willis addressed during this series included avoiding debt; the budgeting process and the wisdom of living on a spending plan; tackling debt by paying down the credit cards with the highest interest first; and the value of savings.

Rev. Willis is pleased to say that he's had positive feedback from his congregation and the income of the church has increased. But, he's convinced that, if he had taught this message eights years ago it wouldn't have worked. "We were too prosperous. It was a different time." Now, he says, rarely a day goes by without someone looking for help from their numerous benevolent ministries.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A proud day in a father's life

I taught our son Justice something new today - the fake fart noise. I can't wait until we can unleash the armpits!

Maine Rejects Same-Sex "Marriage"

By a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent, the voters of Maine on Tuesday repealed a state law that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed. Maine becomes the first state in which residents reversed the state government's decision to allow same-sex "marriage." In every single state — 31 in all, including Maine — where the idea of same-sex "marriage" has been put to a popular vote, it has been defeated.

Five states have legalized same-sex "marriage" — starting with Massachusetts in 2004, followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa — but all did so through legislation or court rulings, not by popular vote. In contrast, constitutional amendments banning same-sex "marriage" have been approved in all 30 states where they have been on the ballot.

Maine's legislature voted in May of this year to allow same-sex "marriage," but an opposition petition campaign put the legislation on hold pending Tuesday's vote. [,]

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Andy Stanley - The Principle of the Path

I received a copy of Andy Stanley's newish book "The Principle of the Path: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be" a while back to review. Thomas Nelson Publishing gave me this copy (free!) to review. It has taken me a while to read through this, not because of the book but because of my busy schedule and some other reading I needed/wanted to do.

I have read and listened to most of what Andy Stanley has put out in the last 10 years, so I went into this book with some preconceptions. This book was NOT what I expected, but it was good in a very different way.

Andy Stanley has put together what I would call a great framework for life in this book. It is written in his easy to follow and understand style. Essentially, this is Andy's self-help guide for how to live life. How to have success and peace of mind at the same time, which is important because one often costs the other.

I think the great thing Andy Stanley always bring to the table is clarity, and in this book that is still the case. He basically tells you much of what you already know, but he clarifies it, and somewhat systematizes it so that you can move forward in your life. His point is we have the ability to control and change the path we are taking in life. We don't accidentally arrive at our destination. But we do have to be active in shaping that path, in spite of temporary obstacles in our lives. Our choices shape our path.

I would recommend this book to anyone needing some clarity in life. I see it as especially useful to someone in a transition point in life, or someone looking for motivation. A recent college grad, an person unexpectedly unemployed in today's economy, someone thinking of getting married - they all could benefit from the the clarity that Andy Stanley provides.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

$130 Million church building!



Plans unveiled for downtown Dallas megachurch

DALLAS — First Baptist Church Dallas announced plans Sunday to build a $130 million state-of-the-art campus in the middle of the downtown Dallas arts district.

It is expected to be the largest expansion in the modern history of a congregation with roots dating back 140 years in Dallas.

The 1.5 million square foot campus includes a new 3,000-seat worship center, a six-story education building, more than 500 parking spots and an acre of green space with a fountain.

The entire project would be certified green.

Church leaders have already raised $62 million for the expansion, and because the economic downturn means construction costs are down, the church estimates it can save $1.30 for for every dollar spent.

First Baptist's current sanctuary, which dates back to 1890, will be preserved.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is a member of the church and supporter of the expansion. He said this will further revitalize downtown Dallas and is another way to urbanize and attract people to the city's center.

If all goes well, the church says construction will begin next fall and will be complete by 2013.

To see more on this build, including visuals, go to First Baptist Church of Dallas' web site. In just a brief browsing of their web site, I find it interesting that in the culturally/ethnically diverse city of Dallas that all the top level leaders of this church are white. Just sayin'. I'd love to see their budget now, and then 10 years from now to see just how/if this huge capital investment pays off for them, as that is a mind blowing about of money on a facility. I hope it does.

Nearly One in Four is Muslim

According to a study released last week by the Pew Research Center®, the global Muslim population now stands at 1.57 billion, which is almost 25 percent of the world's population. Islam, which is practiced in 232 countries and territories, is the world's second largest religion behind Christianity, which has between 2.1 and 2.2 billion followers. The report also revealed that roughly 2.3 million Muslims live in the United States making up 0.8 percent of the population. Click here for the full report.

From the Pastor's Weekly Briefing

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Memorialize Your Pet's Ashes

As if cat ladies weren't creepy enough...

Gina Ambriati, Salina, New York, has a unique service that she offers to pet owners in mourning. She arranges to have an animal cremated, and then seals some of the ashes in a custom-made stuffed animal, often one similar to the deceased pet. The idea for the business — Beloved Pets by Gina — was born from her own experience after her dog, Mugsy, died. She and her husband thought they would never be able to hug their dog again. Overcome with grief, she had the idea to put his ashes inside of a stuffed dog that sat on the back of her couch. "It was like God answered my prayers," Ambriati said. "I could hold him again." []

Monday, November 02, 2009

Conservatives Are Top Ideological Group

A recent Gallup® poll found that conservatives continue to outnumber moderates and liberals in the American populace in 2009. The data is based on 16 separate Gallup surveys conducted from January through September of this year, encompassing more than 5,000 national adults per quarter. Americans who describe themselves as "very conservative" or "conservative" make up 39 to 41 percent. Between 35 and 37 percent call themselves "moderate," while those calling themselves "very liberal" or "liberal" has consistently remained between 20 and 21 percent. Changes among political independents appear to be the main reason the percentage of conservatives has increased nationally over the past year. The 35 percent of independents describing their views as conservative in 2009 is up from 29 percent in 2008. Click here for full report. []

(From FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The History of Halloween

This is a really well put together set of thoughts on Halloween. This comes from Mars Hill Blog.

This is a post from the Lake City campus pastor, James Harleman, that originally appeared on the Lake City blog.

Let’s just confess: I like to dress up. As a drama geek in high school and an actor in college theater, it was inevitable. My wife and I even met in a production of Brigadoon, so wearing costumes – even a kilt – is not really that strange to us. Our wedding reception was a masquerade ball, and our Tenth Anniversary party year has a Venetian Carnivale theme. ANY excuse to wear curious or atypical garb has an allure (as the pictures in the post will attest to).
Obviously then, our participation with a holiday like Halloween becomes a necessary conversation. WILL we participate? If so, HOW will we participate? Every year, we ask congregants at Mars Hill Church to do the same. The following examination provides good fruit for discussion, discernment, and decision-making on this second-hand issue.

It’s the time of year when leaves die and trees turn to skeletons. The garden stops providing. An evening stroll changes from bright sun and chirping birds to dark night and the howling wind. As Halloween approaches, the fact that we begin to consider death and ghost stories is not inherently pagan. It’s human. It’s what we do with those thoughts that matters.

The issue of Halloween and whether Christians should observe this holiday invariably rises from the grave each October. More to the point, most Christians do observe it, but differ in the level of participation or acceptance of it. Evangelist Jack Chick, for instance, the man famous for “Chick Tracts” naively depicts Halloween as a night when ancient Celtic Druids raped and sacrificed virgins, leaving carved pumpkins on the doorsteps of households that gave up their daughters (never mind the fact that pumpkins were a New World plant exported and only grown in Europe recently). Other Christians offer the opposite but equally naive defense of “it’s no big deal”, sending their kids out to eat candy and legitimize American obesity statistics.

Halloween has a long and complex history; following the meandering chain linking a pagan harvest festival to toddlers dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not simple. Christian and secular historians keep finding layers of revisionist history that try to wrap the origins of this holiday up in a nice little bow (perhaps so it can go under the Christmas tree? The decorations come out early enough). Before addressing the Christian’s response to this holiday, let’s look at what little we do know.

Halloween 101
Ancient Celts celebrated a holiday called Samhain (essentially “end of summer”), where they would extinguish their hearth fires and host large ceremonial bonfires, sacrificing animals and crops. This didn’t occur on October 31 but around the same time, depending on the phases of the moon. It marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of a season where the people would be dependent on food stores and shelter from the elements. Superstitious Celts associated winter with death and thought that the season’s transition was marked by the close proximity of spirits; they believed this thin veil would help their Druid priests make prophecies, enabling them to survive the harsh winter. There is an accrued mythology that Druids also wore masks on this night and went from door to door, but historical evidence does support this theory; it seems more like creative fiction manufactured to explain the evolution of modern customs. While not a bad educational supplement, something is not history simply because it appeared on the History Channel.

The name of our present-day holiday, Halloween (or “All Hallows’ Eve“), actually stems from a celebration for saints formed by the early church. A celebration day for all saints emerges in church history as early as the 4th century, but it was originally set in May or the day following Pentecost (some records suggest this also paved over a similar Roman day of the dead). It was the Germans who initially shifted the custom to November 1st, and whether or not this had to do with the practices of the Irish Celts is questioned by historians to this day.

In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III universally changed the date to mirror the German date in conjunction with the consecration of the chapel in St. Peter’s. “All Hallows’ Day” or “All Saints’ Day” would later become a day not only to recognize official Catholic Saints, but also to commemorate the dead and visit the cemetery to reflect on family or friends who had passed away.

Several hundred years later, November 2nd would become “All Souls’ Day” in Catholic tradition. All Hallows’ Eve simply marked the night before, much like Christmas Eve. A focus on cemeteries and the dead had as much to do with Catholic as Celtic traditions, and the accrued traditions and superstitions are a mixed bag stretching up into our own early American immigrant traditions of harvest festivals, and the way Mexican culture turned All Saints’ and Souls’ Days into the “Day of the Dead” festival.

Despite myth and folklore imposed in retrospect on this holiday, recent study reveals that trick-or-treating is a fairly new convention that didn’t become significant until 1930 in the United States. Europe and other countries co-opted the practice, caught up in our merchandising and global influence. Forms of costumed begging have existed for centuries in Christianized Europe, called “mumming” or “guising” and usually involve singing or performing a short play in exchange for food or drink. Wassailing is another grand tradition of singing and going from house to house.

One of the closest similarities we find with a loose connection to trick-or-treating appears in the Middle Ages on All Souls’ Day (November 2nd), where the poor would go from home to home and offer prayers for those in purgatory in exchange for food. However strong evidence suggests that childish mischief and vandalism on the 30th and 31st in early 1900s America (particularly vicious in Detroit, where October 30, the day before Halloween, became known as “Devil’s Night”) gave rise to organized evening activity to make actual treats replace the increasing abundance of tricks.

If Christianity did not successfully pave over this holiday (much as Christmas paved over the Roman Saturnalia), Americana certainly did. This has been punctuated visibly with our indigenous pumpkin replacing the original “Jack-O-Lantern”, originally an Irish turnip. If Halloween itself was a pumpkin, however, there would truly be nothing left to carve. The seasonal change has been celebrated by pagans and Christians for centuries, taking on the customs of a dozen cultures along the way. Its present incarnation receives disdain not only from many Christians but also from professing witches and wiccans. The former feel that it’s intrinsically tied to satanic beliefs and the latter group sees it as a distorted mockery of their beliefs.

One of the most interesting anecdotes I found in researching the history of Halloween is that the one activity many churches do engage in at replacement events like church “Harvest Festivals” is perhaps the one most easily linked to paganism: bobbing or “ducking” for apples was actually a divination ritual related to love and fertility.

To Trick or Not to Treat?
Even if we ascribe church origins to Halloween, the holiday does differ from Christmas. Some will offer that the week in December when we commemorate Christ’s birth was once a Roman festival celebrating Saturn, and may have even involved both gift-giving and evergreen decor. They make the case that Christmas is compromised by paganism just like Halloween. They will also mention that most Christians call the day Jesus rose from death “Easter“, which has roots in pagan fertility rituals (hence the rabbit and those horribly delectable Cadbury Cream Eggs).

As Christmas and Easter have overrun and co-opted various trappings, however, there is for Christians a clear, central focus on Jesus’ incarnation. Halloween may not be inherently evil, but it also has no central, specific focus on the Lord we love. Whether we see Halloween as pagan practices, Catholic traditions, or good old American, candy-coated commercialism, none of these offers great inspiration to participate.

At Mars Hill Church, we don’t believe in the deities worshipped by the Celts or the rituals used to appease or summon them. We do, however, recognize that there are evil spirits that confuse and lead people astray from relationship with the one true God. We recognize that the Bible calls all Christians “saints” and we don’t believe in the Catholic extra-biblical concepts of sainthood or purgatory. Many of the ideas and rituals that have contributed to the Halloween mish-mash aren’t congruent with our beliefs. However, setting aside times to remember or honor those we love that have passed away (hopefully to be with our Savior Jesus) is not a bad idea. On a less somber note, wearing Spider-man costumes, making funny faces on vegetables, and engaging in neighborhood activities where one can both give and receive hospitality is not something we oppose. Fictional fantasy tales of monsters and elves even scary ones are not wholly inappropriate either, whether punctuated on this particular weekend or sprinkled throughout the year in classic tales from authors including Tolkien and Lewis. We regard Halloween as a second-hand issue and ask that every Christian examine their response to the modern-day Halloween celebration in our culture.

Some members of Mars Hill opt to avoid Halloween altogether because portions of its mixed up history prick their conscience. Others see it as a truly americanized holiday, not specifically Christian but essentially “American” like Thanksgiving or Presidents’ Day, and have no conscience issues participating. Others still draw various lines in between; some don’t go out and actively participate, but remain in their homes and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters so that they can offer hospitality to their neighbors and community. Others gather together to hold festivities that exclude the more overtly creepy or questionable elements.

For those who have shunned Halloween because they were simply told it was evil, or for those who have participated and never bothered to weigh its appropriateness, your pastors would encourage the employment of godly wisdom, discernment, and a sense of our shared mission as Christians. Our abstinence or participation in regard to Halloween should not be derived from fear, misinformation, or pressure but rather from a sincere love of Jesus; every response to our culture and its festivals is a way to point to the God we love and serve.

Lastly, for parents, don’t forget that gluttony is a sin. Be careful not to force your kids to learn this the hard way: lying on an altar of plastic wrap and tin-foil, holding their bulbous stomachs. If you participate in Halloween, it might be the perfect time to introduce the concept of moderation.

Another Halloween Fact:
October 31st is also “Reformation Day“, commemorating the day in 1517 when Christian reformer Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses challenging the doctrine of penance, the authority of the pope, and the usefulness of indulgences. Dressing up the kids like Reformers and handing out doctrinal challenges, however, might not be the wisest form of cultural engagement. The period outfits are cool, though.

Student Allowed to Wear Anti-Abortion T-Shirt

On the day President Obama addressed the nation's school children in September, a middle school student in Pennsylvania wore a T-shirt with the message, "Abortion is not Healthcare." A teacher subsequently sent the boy to the principal's office, where he was asked to turn the shirt inside out because it might offend other students.

The student's father, William Boyer, filed a lawsuit against the West Shore School District, alleging that his son was unfairly censored by school officials. The lawsuit also claimed that the district's dress code and student expression policies were unconstitutional, and that the censorship of religious speech violates the first and 14th amendments to the Constitution.

On Monday of this week, a federal judge approved an agreement between the district and the student which allows him to wear the anti-abortion T-shirt, at least temporarily. Under the agreement, the district will permit students to wear anti-abortion and religious T-shirts and will not enforce the portions of its "dress and grooming" and "student expression" policies that are being challenged by Boyer. According to The Houston Chronicle, the district may still enforce policies that "restrict student expression if it will cause a substantial disruption, is offensively lewd or encourages the use of illegal drugs or alcohol."

The district and the child's lawyers have until Jan. 15, 2010, to come to a final agreement. If they do not, the issue could go to trial. [,, USA Today]

(From FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

As a random, but somewhat interesting aside, when you Google "Pastor's Weekly Briefing" I come up as the #1 result, higher than the actual place that provides them! Odd.