Monday, May 26, 2008

A full-time minister is becoming an out-of-reach luxury

Part-time pastors juggle jobs, ministry

Bob Shaw / AP The Rev. Danny Fleming has a full-time job with the Army and ministers at two churches some Sundays and three on others.

Bob Shaw / AP The Rev. Danny Fleming has a full-time job with the Army and ministers at two churches some Sundays and three on others.

SALEM, W.Va. — For Danny Fleming, Sunday is no day of rest.

It starts before dawn, when the United Methodist pastor rises from slumber and gets ready for services. Some Sundays, he travels to two churches. On others, it's three. Every week, he spends 20 hours preparing his sermons and logs nearly 100 miles on his truck traveling to services.

And that's all before Monday morning, when he gets up for his full-time job with the U.S. Army in Clarksburg, where he supervises the maintenance and repairs of Army Reserve vehicles and equipment in northern West Virginia.

"I decided a long time ago you get out of it what you put into it," said the soft-spoken 58-year-old, after leading a small rural congregation in worship on a recent Sunday.

For many of the millions of Americans who depend on their pastors, ministers and spiritual leaders, a full-time minister is becoming an out-of-reach luxury. To keep small churches open — and to provide individual care at big churches — religious groups are increasingly relying on part-time, or bivocational pastors.

Worship is just one of the many expectations being placed on these part-timers. There are church council meetings, Bible studies, suppers and other gatherings, and — most important — being there for believers.

"A bivocational minister can be a lot of things, but he can't be lazy," said Ray Gilder, national coordinator of the Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association.

When such a hectic schedule is added to the demands of work and family, the results can tax even the hardiest person.

"Sometimes it means I don't sleep," said the Rev. Alton Dillard, "but I make myself available."

Dillard, the married father of two teenagers, is the pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church's Allen Chapel in Charleston's east side. He also works 12-hour shifts at Columbia Gas Works, sometimes sandwiching Sunday worship and a brief nap in between. On top of that, he presides over Wednesday night Bible classes and always has his cell phone in case his congregants need him.

"It's not easy, but it works about 90 percent of the time," Dillard said.

A growing trend

One expert says about a third of the pastors serving large Protestant denominations are part time, with some — such as the Southern Baptist Convention — nearing 40 percent.

"It's a growing form of ministry, and I believe it's going to grow even faster and larger," said the Rev. Dennis Bickers, a former part-time pastor and now an area minister for the American Baptist Church in Indiana and Kentucky.

In many denominations, bivocational ministers were more common than full-timers up until the middle of the 20th century. Rising prosperity plus a push toward professionalism and seminary graduates meant more congregations employed full-time pastors, but that trend has crested.

The phenomenon also isn't limited to Christianity. Part-time rabbis are common, and a study by the Council on American-Islamic Relations reports that most American mosques have volunteer leaders with other jobs.

But the centrality of the pastor in most Christian traditions, and the financial support many congregations generally provide to their ministers, means that for many religious Americans, the resurgence of the part-timer requires some adjustments.

In the Roman Catholic Church, only a priest can perform the majority of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, the centerpiece of Catholic worship. But, as a shortage of ordained clergy strains priests' schedules, a corps of full-and part-time lay ministers has sprung up to lend assistance.

About 500 parishes in the United States don't have an assigned priest, but stay open through the efforts of lay ministers and occasional visits by priests for Mass, said Christopher Anderson, executive director of the National Association for Lay Ministry.

Parishioners also help

Even in parishes with one or two full-time priests it's common to see dozens of volunteers who oversee everything from religious education to marriage preparation, Anderson said.

"It's really a case of empowering people to keep the parishes open," he said.

In financial terms, part-time pastors may be the only way for some churches to stay open.

A 2006 study by the Southern Baptist Convention found that the pay and benefits package for a full-time minister in that denomination costs $59,995 a year. A part-time minister costs $17,385. For smaller churches with worshippers living on fixed incomes, the advantages of part-time pastors are obvious.

But financial concerns aren't the only considerations driving churches to decide that a part-time minister is better than no minister at all.

For the 80 or so people who attend the five churches that Fleming pastors, his presence is a blessing.

In one church, where 21 people gathered on a recent Sunday to hear him preach, some remember what it was like before Fleming arrived, when as few as nine people made it to a service.

By contrast, on this Sunday, as Fleming preaches his sermon, heads nod attentively and yellow pens highlight Bible passages he touches upon. When the service is over, the congregation — from children to grandparents — lines up to shake its pastor's hand.



Dear instant noodle lovers,
Make sure you break for at least 3 days after one session of instant noodles before you eat your next packet! Please read the info shared to me by a doctor. My family stopped eating instant noodles more than 5 years ago after hearing about the wax coating the noodles - the wax is not just in the Styrofoam containers but it coats the noodles. This is why the instant noodles do not stick to each other when cooking.

If one were to examine the ordinary Chinese yellow noodles in the market, one will notice that, in their uncooked state the noodles are oily. This layer of oil prevents the noodles from sticking together.

Wanton noodles in their uncooked state have been dusted with flour to prevent them sticking together. When the hawker cooks the noodles, notice he cooks them in hot water and then rinses them in cold water before cooking them in hot water again. This process is repeated several times before the noodles are ready to be served. The cooking and rinsing process prevents noodles from sticking together.

The hawker then 'lowers the noodles in oil and sauce to prevent the noodles from sticking if they are to be served dry. Cooking instructions for spaghetti require oil or butter to be added in the water when boiling the spaghetti to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Otherwise, one gets a big clump of spaghetti!

There was an SBC (now TCS) actor some years ago, who at a busy time of his career had no time to cook, resorted to eating instant noodles everyday. He got cancer later on. His doctor told him about the wax in instant noodles. The doctor told him that our body will need up to 2 days to clear the wax. There was also an SIA steward who after moving out from his mother's house into his own house, did not cook but ate instant noodles almost every meal. He had cancer, and has since died from it.

Nowadays the instant noodles are referred as ' cancer noodles '.


If you all eat Satay, don't ever forget to eat the cucumber, because eating Satay together with carbon after barbequing can cause cancer.
But we have a cure for that... Cucumber should be eaten after we eat the Satay because Satay has carcinogen (a cancer causing element) but cucumber is anti-carcinogenic. So don't forget to eat the cucumber the next time you have Satay's.


eat shrimp / prawn if you have just taken VITAMIN C pills!!
This will cause you to DIE in ARSENIC (As) toxication within HOURS!!


Try this and see whether the pork you bought has worms. There goes with your 'Bak Kut Teh' for those who love it. Most men love to eat this so watch out before it's too late. If you pours Coke (yes, the soda) on a slab of pork, wait a little while, you will SEE WORMS crawl out of it. A message from the Health Corporation of Singapore about the bad effects of pork consumption. Pig's bodies contain MANY TOXINS, WORM and LATENT DISEASES.

Although some of these infestations are harboured in other animals, modern veterinarians say that pigs are far MORE PREDISPOSED to these illnesses than other animals. This could be because PIGS like to SCAVENGE and will eat ANY kind of food, INCLUDING dead insects, worms, rotting carcasses, excreta including their own, garbage, and other pigs. INFLUENZA (flu) is one of the MOST famous illnesses which pigs share with humans. This illness is harboured in the LUNGS of pigs during the summer months and tends to affect pigs and human in the cooler months.

Sausage contains bits of pigs' lungs, so those who EAT pork sausage tend to SUFFER MORE during EPIDEMICS of INFLUENZA. Pig meat contains EXCESSIVE quantities of HISTAMINE and IMIDAZOLE compounds, which can lead to ITCHING and INFLAMMATION; GROWTH HORMONE which PROMOTES INFLAMMATION and growth; sulphur containing mesenchymal mucus which leads to SWELLING and deposits of MUCUS in tendons and cartilage, resulting in ATHRITIS, RHEUMATISM, etc.
Sulphur helps cause FIRM human tendons and ligaments to be replaced by the pig's soft mesenchymal tissues, and degeneration of human cartilage.

Eating pork can also lead to GALLSTONES and OBESITY, probably due to its HIGH CHOLESTEROL and SATURATED FAT content. The pig is the MAIN CARRIER of the TAENIE SOLIUM WORM, which is found in its flesh. These tapeworms are found in human intestines with greater frequency in nations where pigs are eaten. This type of tapeworm can pass through the intestines and affect many other organs, and is incurable once it reaches beyond a certain stage. One in six people in the US and Canada has RICHINOSIS from eating trichina worms, which are found in pork.

Many people have NO SYMPTOMS to warm them of this, and when they do, they resemble symptoms of many other illnesses. These worms are NOT noticed during meat inspections.


Cancer-causing substance in shampoos. Go home and check your shampoo. Change before it's too late... Check the ingredients listed on your shampoo bottle, and see they have a substance by the name of Sodium Laureth Sulfate, or simply SLS. This substance is found in most shampoos; manufacturers use it because it produces a lot of foam and it is cheap. BUT the fact is, SLS is used to scrub garage floors, and it is very strong!!! It is also proven that it can cause cancer in the long run, and this is no joke. Shampoos that contains SLS: Vo5, Palmolive, Paul Mitchell, L'Oreal, the new Hemp Shampoo from Body Shop etc. contain this substance.

The first ingredient listed (which means it is the single most prevalent ingredient) in Clairol's Herbal Essences is Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Therefore, I called one company, and I told them their product contains a substance that will cause people to have cancer. They said, Yeah we knew about it but there is nothing we can do about it because we need that substance to produce foam. By the way Colgate toothpaste also contains the same substance to produce the 'bubbles'. They said they are going to send me some information.

Research has shown that in the 1980s, the chance of getting cancer is 1 out of 8000 and now, in the 1990s, the chances of getting cancer is 1 out of 3, which is very serious. Therefore, I hope that you will take this seriously and pass this on to all the people you know, and hopefully, we can stop 'giving' ourselves cancer-causing agents.

To maintain them, devotees will have to make offerings to them twice a day, seven days a week

Breathing Life Into Gods, and Into a Hindu Temple

May 26, 2008

In the new temple’s sanctum early Sunday morning, everything was in place: the coconuts, the red strings, the Post-It notes, all connected to the white marble statues of Shiva, Durga, Hanuman and the rest of the Hindu gods and goddesses lining the walls. All that remained was for the devotees to breathe life into them.

“The deities are there, but right now they’re just sculptures,” said Ram Nair, a temple trustee. “The power isn’t invoked in them yet. In a couple of hours, it will be.”

For Staten Island’s growing Hindu population, a couple of hours more was not long to wait to finally have its own major temple. After 10 years of worship in private homes and community meeting halls and the not-quite-finished structure of the temple itself on Victory Boulevard, the Staten Island Hindu Temple was formally consecrated in a clangorous three-day ceremony that ended on Sunday.

For the 500 Hindu families from all over India who live scattered across the island, the days of having to travel to Queens or Edison, N.J., to worship are over.

“This has been a true blessing for our community,” said Rajiv S. Gowda, a civil engineer and City Council candidate — Staten Island’s first from Southeast Asia. He added, “This is a temple that was built from scratch.”

The temple, just north of a Staten Island Expressway exit near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, is in a pleasant lot where a house used to lie. Next door is a rambling house with an “Irish Welcome” doormat. The Dermaplastic Arts Building, home of the Laser Liposuction Rejuvenation Center, sits on the other side. Across busy Victory Boulevard is the Clove Lake Park skating rink.

On Sunday morning inside the temple building, a sandstone-colored cinder-block structure that awaits further decoration, the sanctum began to fill with men and women chanting and praying.

They faced a display of 108 coconut pots, each resting in a golden vessel filled with water. Red strings tied to some of the vessels led up to the ceiling and across the room to the mini-shrines called mandapams, each of which housed statues of gods. Post-its on the red threads labeled their destinations — Hanuman, the monkey god, representing devotion; Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, playing a lute-like instrument called a veena, and half a dozen others.

The devotees’ prayers, explained Dhira Chaitanya, the temple’s religious teacher, travel through the coconuts, up the threads and into the statues, animating them. The idea, he explained, is to connect the worshiper to the infinite, represented by the water vessel, and the infinite to its tangible, visible emissaries: the statues of the gods.

“The Lord is infinite and has infinite manifestations,” said Dr. Chaitanya, a semi-retired physician. “We have to have many manifestations to look upon the infinite.”

Several worshipers said that watching the consecration ceremony gave them a new appreciation of the religion they had grown up in.

“When you attend ceremonies like this, it’s what allows you to understand the rituals,” said Rani Nair, 36, an occupational therapist (and no relation to Ram Nair). “This teaches you that there is a significance behind each and every tradition, so that it’s not just dogma.” For instance, she said, “When you connect these threads to the pots, you’re providing a channel to connect the force of God into the idol through that medium. That is something I didn’t know.”

The pace of the ceremony began to accelerate; the chanting grew louder, the bells and drums went faster. A priest in a white robe lighted an oil fire in a foil chafing pan and put a coconut in the center of it. The red threads were cut. Worshipers applauded.

They filed downstairs, most with coconuts in hand, and paraded around the outside of the building, led by a shirtless priest wearing a glass-bead necklace and carrying an extra-large coconut vessel on his head. Someone held a bright fabric umbrella over the priest’s head. Someone else pelted his vessel with flowers.

“Not everybody gets a chance to be part of a temple consecration in their lifetime; temples aren’t build very often,” said Samala Swamy, the co-chairman of the temple. “If this were to happen in India, only a few affluent fortunate rich could afford to be part of it.” Staten Island’s Hindus are a fairly prosperous lot — the temple was thick with doctors and engineers and business owners — but the ceremony was open to all.

Around 2 p.m., temple priests and elders removed curtains in front of the statues and re-revealed the gods, now clothed in elaborate costumes spun with gold thread and adorned with gold crowns and jewelry. Hanuman sported a heavy costume-diamond necklace. Durga, a warrior goddess seated atop a lion, held a new gold trident in one of her eight hands.

“These deities are not statues anymore,” Dr. Swamy said. “They are live gods.” To maintain them, devotees will have to make offerings to them twice a day, seven days a week. “It’s a big responsibility for the community,” Dr. Swamy said.

He paused and added, “I thank God I could be part of this.”

It's important that we the church take care of this

L.A. parishes help pay archdiocese's $720 million in abuse settlements

With gifts large and small, they're heeding Mahony's appeal for help in paying victims.
By Rebecca Trounson
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

May 25, 2008

Blessed with a nest egg of nearly $1.5 million, a Woodland Hills parish donated almost all of it, leaving just $1,000 in its savings account. An Encino church offered a $100,000 interest-free loan. And a Boyle Heights parish decided it could spare $500 after ruling out the idea of raising money with tamale sales.

With gifts large and small, parishes across the sprawling Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles are answering an appeal from Cardinal Roger M. Mahony to help the archdiocese dig out of the financial hole resulting from its multimillion-dollar legal settlements with victims of clergy sexual abuse.

"It's important that we the church take care of this," said Father Scott Santarosa of Dolores Mission Catholic Church in Boyle Heights, which gave the $500 from its limited unrestricted funds. "It's like a family trying to take care of itself. Every family has parts that break down or need help. That's part of the church too, and we can't turn our backs."

Some parishes have told the archdiocese they cannot contribute because they are too poor or in debt from construction projects or real estate purchases. Others have yet to decide, their pastors said in interviews. But whatever the circumstance, the choice is not easy, several said.

"Either way, it's controversial," said Msgr. David A. Sork, pastor of St. John Fisher Church in Rancho Palos Verdes, who said he is praying about the issue and consulting parish leaders but has not yet decided. "It's a tough one."

On the one hand, Sork said, his congregants are asking why they should pay for mistakes that occurred in other parishes, not theirs. "Or they say, 'Why do we have to pay for something that happened 30 years ago?' That's hard for many to understand," he said. "But not helping means the archdiocese's services to all parishes, including this one, will be hampered."

Mahony made his request in a series of meetings around the archdiocese between January and March. Speaking to clergy and lay leaders, Mahony offered details of his financial recovery plan for the archdiocese, which has been staggered by abuse settlements totaling $720 million, including last summer's record $660-million agreement, in hundreds of civil cases.

Mahony, 72, whose remarks at one session were recorded for distribution to the parishes, apologized for "mistakes and miscalculations" he said he had made in handling the abuse crisis. He asked for help, saying the settlement costs were more than expected. To pay its $292-million share of the bill, he said, the archdiocese had cut administrative staff, liquidated investments and begun to sell off about 50 properties, including its headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

The archdiocese's central office is also trying to trim its budget an additional 10% and has asked parishes to increase their annual assessments to the office by 2% for five years beginning July 1.

Mahony said he had decided against trying to raise funds directly from the L.A. area's estimated 5 million Roman Catholics, saying he feared such a move might create ill will among parishioners and lead to resentment of the abuse victims. But he asked any parish that could afford it to assist with gifts or loans, mostly to pay down $175 million borrowed from an Irish bank to cover part of the settlements.

"I need to say to you very openly: I need your help," Mahony said, his face and voice somber. Without such assistance, he said, retiring the debt could take up to 15 years and force even deeper cuts in administrative and support services the central office provides the archdiocese's 288 parishes.

The cardinal also wrote letters seeking help from about 100 parishes that had undesignated funds of $100,000 to $1 million in the archdiocese's centrally managed investment pool, spokesman Tod Tamberg said.

One such parish was St. Bernardine of Siena Church in Woodland Hills, which had significant savings, much of it from a $1-million bequest from a parishioner who died several years ago. After Mahony's appeal, the church's pastor, Father Robert McNamara, held two long meetings with his finance council, staff and lay leaders.

In the end, McNamara decided to give nearly all of his parish's savings, almost $1.5 million. He declined recent requests for comment but explained the decision in several letters to parishioners.

"I prayed a lot, had some sleepless nights too . . ," McNamara wrote April 27. "I kept asking what kind of parish is St. Bernardine's."

McNamara reminded parishioners that both the church and its school still had substantial endowments and that the parish also had an emergency maintenance fund of about $540,000. And he said he had been inspired by his parishioners' generosity in raising nearly $170,000 in recent years for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Southeast Asian tsunami and famine in Africa.

"You have given like a people who wanted to make a difference, and a difference you did make," he wrote. "That continued generosity inspired my decision then to help by giving all our savings minus $1,000." That amount was held back to keep the savings account open.

McNamara acknowledged that the decision had come after meetings that included "some heated exchanges. There was some venting -- anger, disappointment, frustration, concern for victims, etc., all coming from the shame we felt as Catholics and our empathy for the victims," he wrote. But he said most of the responses since then had been supportive.

At least one longtime member of St. Bernardine said she remains upset about the priest's decision, saying all parishioners should have been consulted. The woman spoke on condition of anonymity, saying she feared she would be criticized for speaking out against the gift.

"When the basket came around, we were told that if we kept giving to the church, the money would not go to pay for anything related to the abuse," she said. "Now all that money is gone, and it's gone exactly where it wasn't supposed to go."

But Eileen Fewless, the church's director of religious education who attended one of the discussions, strongly supported the gift. "Everyone in that meeting had a thoughtful, prayerful attitude, and I think most were really in favor of giving," she said. "That's the kind of parish we are."

Charles Zech, director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, said Mahony's request to parishes was unusual but not unprecedented, with dioceses in San Diego and Tucson among those that also have asked parishes to help pay abuse settlements.

"The ultimate source of money for any archdiocese or diocese is the parishioners," he said. "They're going to pay for this one way or the other."

But Zech also said he considered such appeals to parishes to be fair, as long as any contributions were voluntary.

Some parishes, even in relatively wealthy areas, said they could not afford to contribute because they are paying off loans for building projects.

And others, including Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights, simply cannot. "We have no discretionary funds," said Msgr. John Moretta. "We are in a parish that is in a survival mode itself, but others are very graciously stepping up to the plate."

At St. Anne Church in Santa Monica, Father Michael D. Gutierrez said the meeting in his Westside deanery with Mahony, priests and lay leaders was tense at times. "There were some really hard questions, but I thought the cardinal did a good job explaining why he needed this," he said.

The priest said his own parish, a relatively poor congregation that has struggled in recent years to keep its small school open, nonetheless wanted to contribute. He said it will give $25,000 -- $5,000 a year for each of the next five years. Gutierrez also is among local priests who have donated a month's salary to help pay down the debt.

"I think we've all learned from these mistakes and we've moved forward," he said. "We do good work now and we need to help the church move on."

At St. Cyril of Jerusalem, a congregation of about 1,400 families in Encino, Msgr. Carl Bell said he and his finance council had decided to lend the archdiocese $100,000 interest-free and would be paid back over the next decade. And at St. Denis Church in Diamond Bar, Msgr. James Loughnane said he had consulted parish leaders. Although no decision had been made, he expected they would contribute.

"They understand that at this point, blaming anyone isn't the answer," Loughnane said. "We need to rally around the situation and take care of it."


We have got to read our Bibles more closely than we have done and engage more fiercely than we have done

Jim Wallis: Faith succeeding where politics has failed

by Maria Mackay
Posted: Monday, May 26, 2008, 10:24 (BST)

In an era of broken politics and bad religion, faith is making a serious comeback as a force for social change, believes prolific Christian author and speaker Jim Wallis.

Speaking at the UK launch of his new book, ‘Seven Ways to Change the World’ in central London last night, he said that Christianity was reviving and that it was time for Christians to answer the two great spiritual hungers of the world today: the hunger for spirituality and the hunger for social justice.

“The connection between the two is the one the world is waiting for,” he said.

Wallis admitted that Christianity’s reputation as hypocritical, judgemental and otherworldly indicated “some image problems”, and that the likes of televangelists and paedophile priests had created “baggage”.

“People are confused about what we think and what we believe,” he said.

Wallis painted a positive picture, however, of Christianity coming back from the margins as the answer to some of the world’s biggest challenges, including poverty, human trafficking, environmental degradation and amoral culture.

“Politics is broken. Politics is failing to address the great moral issues of the time. When that happens social movements rise up to change politics and the best social movements always have spiritual foundations,” he said.

Wallis pointed to the great changes that movements rooted in Christianity had already made in history, including the abolition of the slave trade, child labour law reform, and women’s suffrage.

He told the audience, “Things no one thought could change became possible to change because of movements and every single self reform movement…didn’t succeed without the significant involvement of people of faith.”

Today’s generation of believers could make the same difference, he insisted.

“Your generation is applying your faith to the biggest challenges we face in our time – and that’s the good news.”

Wallis, who also heads up the US Christian network Sojourners, acknowledged that the challenges in today’s world are huge, but encouraged believers to rely on their faith to make the difference.

“What [these issues] feel like is mountains but you know what, that’s why we call it faith. That’s the whole point,” he said. “The Bible says if you’ve got faith the size of a mustard seed, what can you move? Mountains. Movements are in the mountain-moving business.”

Wallis pointed to his new book, which calls Christians to make seven commitments that he believes will dramatically change the world.

“These big seven challenges require commitments from people of faith and if we make these commitments maybe this will be one of those moments of great awakening of revival when faith comes alive.”

He spoke of a “tipping point” when “the problem yields to solutions”, but stressed that the commitment to social engagement had to first begin on the individual level and within the home.

“If you are not doing it on the home front, forget it,” said Wallis.

“It’s millions of commitments from people to the movement that make the big change possible.”

He urged churches to “lead by example” and not bend to fit politicians’ agendas, but compel the politicians to fit the church’s agenda.

“[Martin Luther] King and Ghandi knew you have to change the wind,” he said. “But change the wind and it’s remarkable how quickly they [politicians] respond. They have an agenda. We can’t just fit into their agenda. We have to have an agenda that they respond to. That’s what movements have done…that’s the big possibility.”

Wallis also appealed to Christians not to fall into cynicism but to continue to have hope in change.

“The big choice is the choice between hope and cynicism,” he said.

“[Cynics] are against all the bad stuff but you don’t think it could ever change. And so your cynicism becomes a buffer against commitment.

“Hope on the other hand isn’t a feeling or a personality type. Hope is a choice people make, a decision they make, because of the thing we call faith. Hebrews says faith is the substance of things hoped for…hope means believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change.”

Christians need to invest their time, money, talents and faith into making change happen, Wallis stressed.

“If you don’t put everything into it there won’t be any movements that change much of anything, but if you do there is no telling what this generation will accomplish.”

He concluded: “We’ve seen a lot of bad religion. Bad religion pulls up the worst stuff. But good religion brings out our best stuff, the compassion of Christ, a hunger for justice…good religion is the answer to bad religion. That time is coming again.”

Wallis was joined on the platform by Steve Chalke, the founder of Christian movement Faithworks, which hosted the evening.

He echoed Wallis’ sentiments: “Jim is right, politics is broken. Politics isn’t working.”

Chalke admitted however that as Christians “our theology is broken a lot of the time” and spoke of the need for a move away from “disembodied and spiritual good news” towards a more socially engaged and holistic theology.

“We have got to read our Bibles more closely than we have done and engage more fiercely than we have done,” he told the audience, adding, “Faith isn’t about an escape and materialism.”

Chalke also told Christians that they have nothing to fear from new atheists like Richard Dawkins, author of the God Delusion, saying the fact that Dawkins recently identified himself as a ‘cultural Christian’ was tantamount to an admission that atheism is morally bankrupt.

“Secular humanism is going to produce a moral desert,” he said.

In an age where Christians no longer hold power in society, he continued, Christians “are going to have to demonstrate faith”.

“What actually matters is who delivers something down on the ground. That’s the challenge to us.”

I really wish that Christians would stop watering down their faith

Church of England told to stop watering down faith

by Ethan Cole, Christian Post
Posted: Monday, May 26, 2008, 17:27 (BST)

The Church of England is divided over a proposed motion urging it to proclaim Christianity as the only way to salvation and offer strategies on how to evangelise Muslims.

Senior church leaders as well as some Muslim figures have voiced anger at the motion proposed by Paul Eddy – a lay member of the church’s General Synod, according to the BBC. Eddy, along with traditionalist Anglicans, argues that the Church should stop avoiding hard questions about its beliefs.

The Church of England must make it clear that it believes in what the Bible says about Jesus being the only way to salvation, he said. Currently training to become a priest, Eddy believes that being upfront about the Church’s beliefs will be helpful to Muslim-Christian relations.

“Most Muslims that I’ve talked to say, ‘I really wish that Christians would stop watering down their faith and expecting us to do the same,’” Eddy said on BBC Radio Four on Sunday. “Until we start really saying what we really believe in our faith, there will be no respect.”

Eddy went on to note that Muslims expect Christians to believe that Jesus is the only way to God.

“They will expect us – if we’re true Christians – to try to evangelise them, in the same way they will expect us, if they’re true Muslims, to adopt their faith,” he said.

But the problem is that the Church, in an effort to be inclusive and to avoid offending people of other faiths, has “lost its nerve” and is “not doing what the Bible says”, he claims.

"Both Christianity and Islam are missionary faiths," Eddy pointed out. "For years, we have sent missionaries throughout the whole world, but when we have the privilege of people of all nations on our doorstep, we have a responsibility as the state church to share the gospel of Jesus Christ."

He urges Anglican bishops to give Church members advice on how to evangelise, and how to better support Muslims who have converted to Christianity and who are now ostracised by their communities.

The proposal is expected to be discussed at the General Synod summer meeting, being held from July 4 to 8 in York.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

To be effective in evangelism we must simply learn to rely on the Holy Spirit's power

I'll Never Become a Christian Because...

People who resist the gospel almost always use one of five generic excuses. Here's how you can respond.
By Darwin Dewar

All of us who follow Christ are called to the task of evangelism. Sadly, witnessing to unbelievers about the Christian faith is a scary prospect for many churchgoers.

I often hear their worries expressed like this: "But what if I get into a discussion and don't know the answer?" or "What if they get angry with me?" or "What if I end up looking stupid?"

We all struggle with the fear of being rejected. We also are afraid we will "lose" the argument. But we must understand that evangelism is not arguing.

First Peter 3:15 says: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (NIV).

In Philemon we are encouraged to "be active in sharing [our] faith, so that [we] will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ" (v.6). Note that both of these verses are intended to be applied within the context of active evangelism--not passive religious discussion or arguing.

Jesus never argued with anybody. He certainly had His differences of opinion with the Pharisees, but He didn't fight with them.

The Bible says we are called to be witnesses--not debators. To be effective in evangelism we must simply learn to rely on the Holy Spirit's power -- and be prepared to respond to the questions others have about our faith.

In my many witnessing experiences on college campuses, I've learned to lean on the Holy Spirit for guidance in my conversations. I've also learned that most people have the same common excuses.

But rest assured, God is not looking for expert witnesses who have doctorates in theology. He is looking for faithful witnesses who are willing to share their faith with others. Here are five of the most common objections people will express when you share the gospel with them:

1. Don't all religions teach basically the same things but just use different names for God?

Because of my father's job with the Canadian Embassy, I have traveled to and lived in more than 40 nations. I encountered a number of world religions, philosophies and ideologies in my own search for truth.

Looking beneath the surface similarities, the world's religions are significantly different. One major difference is the contradictory view of the nature of God.

For example, some forms of Buddhism do not teach about God at all. Hinduism teaches that multiple gods exist and that even rocks, trees and animals are part of these gods. Christianity teaches that God exists but that He is separate from all creation.

Because various world religions offer mutually exclusive definitions, they cannot possibly be descriptions of the same God.

Most religions see Jesus as a prophet from God but not as who He claimed to be--the incarnation of God Himself. The Bible describes Jesus in an unprecedented fashion found in no other sacred text--as "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14).

Other religions also deny that Jesus' mission was to give His life on the cross as a payment for our sins. Jesus is unique in that He not only claimed to be God but also proved it through His resurrection.

People who think all religions are the same usually ask, "As long as you are sincere, what difference does it make what you believe?" Consider Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden. Were these men not sincere? Sincerity is never a measure of truth.

And sincerely believing something doesn't make it true. You can be sincere and wrong at the same time.

2. Isn't it narrow-minded for Christians to think they're the only ones who are right?
I hear the "Christians are narrow-minded" argument all the time. Modern pluralists say they want a "tolerant" society that embraces all religions and lifestyles. They want a world where anything goes.

Yet Jesus never talked about tolerance but rather commanded His followers to demonstrate a far higher objective--to show love to all people. Though it is possible to tolerate someone without loving him, the reverse is impossible.

Jesus was not a model of tolerance. He was so intolerant of our lost condition, in fact, that He came to Earth to do something about it! He was intolerant of a number of things, including sin, hypocrisy and selfishness.

The issue is not really with us. It was Jesus Himself who said: "'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me'" (John 14:6, NKJV).

Jesus claimed to be the unique pathway to God and to eternal life. The important question is whether or not we have good reason to accept His position over all the other options.

I say this to people who think Christianity is narrow-minded: "Do you believe that 1+1=2? Do you believe that water boils at 212 F at sea level? If so, should you be considered narrow-minded, or do you have good reason for believing these are the only acceptable answers?"

3. I don't believe the Bible. It is a book of myths and legends put together by pre-scientific men marked by superstitions and fears.
When people bring up this objection, I usually ask them, "Have you ever read the Bible?" Unfortunately, most haven't. If they respond positively, I ask them, "How much of the Bible have you read?" Typically they have read very little.

If they claim to have read the entire Bible I ask them, "What do you believe the central message of the Bible is?" At this point most get it wrong. The vast majority of people who have a negative opinion of the Bible have formulated it before reading the text.

We must remember, however, to be gentle when reminding people of their inconsistencies so that we don't discourage them from further dialogue as we direct them toward the cross.

The Bible stands head and shoulders above any work of antiquity for both trustworthiness and bibliographical accuracy. The New Testament, in particular, offers a greater number of surviving manuscript copies (about 24,000) and a shorter time span between copies (about 50 years) than any other bibliographical work in the world!

Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix comment in A General Introduction to the Bible, "For all practical purposes the modern critical editions of the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible represent, with their footnotes, exactly what the autographs (original documents) contained--line for line, word for word, and even letter for letter."

The Bible tells us that "above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:20-21, NIV). Like most other sacred texts, Scripture claims to be divinely inspired.

The uniqueness of the Bible is that it is the only holy book in the world having substitutionary atonement as its core belief. Jesus satisfied the demands of justice from a holy God, enabling the guilty parties (you and me) to be forgiven and experience true freedom through His death and resurrection.

No other religion in the world can offer you that. As you read the Bible, the Holy Spirit makes the text come alive, giving new understanding and revelation in a personally applicable way.

Because it is divinely inspired it consequently is authoritative to all areas of life. It speaks beyond the intellect to the depths of the heart, empowering us to make positive inner choices (repentance and faith) that produce beneficial lifestyle changes (regeneration and sanctification).

4. If a loving and all-powerful God really exists, why doesn't He do something about the evil in the world?
This is a difficult question. We must come to the realization that evil is not just some vague force that hovers around somewhere; instead it is personal and lives within each of us. If God wanted to get rid of evil, He would have to get rid of us as well!

God created us with a free will because He loves us. We can each choose to love and follow Him or to reject and turn away from Him. Without free will there would be no love.

We all have chosen at various times in our lives to rebel against Him and follow our own inclinations. Realizing we are part of the "evil" that people say God "should do something about" gives us a new and humble perspective.

With free will comes consequences for the things we choose. We live in a culture that cries out for freedom of choice but hates the responsibilities that come with it.

Consider the many lawsuits that have been initiated against fast food restaurants because people chose to eat there but then got fat. This "passing the buck" mentality is symptomatic of our fallen nature (see Gen. 3).

If God were to limit the consequences of evil, our free will would disappear, and moral consequences would become a mere game. Suffering often teaches us life's greatest lessons. In fact, the Bible says that even Jesus learned through what He suffered (see Heb. 5:8).

The Bible does tell us that God is both "just" and "merciful." In His mercy, He is patiently giving us time to turn to Him and receive the forgiveness and life He offers. God also promises that He will put an end to all evil and one day will execute final judgment.

Ironically, the existence of evil should lead us toward belief in God, not away from it. Without God there would be no standard of right and wrong.

The concepts of both "good" and "evil" are moral values or judgments that denote the existence of a moral governor (God). Without God, we would have come into existence by chance, and whatever we do would have no meaning or moral value, positive or negative.

Some people claim to believe this is the case, but their responses to life often reveal inconsistencies in their own convictions. As soon as they complain about some "injustice" or "unfair" situation or claim that someone has "wronged" them, they are making moral judgments about what is "right" and "wrong."

These judgments betray their belief in standards that are ultimately above us all--standards that come not from us but from God.

5. I don't believe in God. What kind of proof can you offer me that He exists?
Science points to the highly complex order in the universe. We also see complexity and order in the human body. Elementary logic tells us that any type of design demands a designer.

At this point another question often arises: Where did God Himself come from?

According to the Bible, God is the uncaused cause of all things. He has always existed.

In the Bible, His existence is considered an axiom (a self-evident truth). Because of the abundant evidence of Him in nature, He in no way attempts to justify that He exists.

But evidence is found in written history. Jewish, Roman, Greek and other sources all support the miraculous events of Jesus' life. Examples include His fulfilling more than 330 specific prophecies recorded hundreds of years earlier and performing numerous miracles.

The single biggest reason I know that God exists is that 23 years ago He changed my life in a way that was humanly impossible. I found that in spite of doing well both academically and athletically, there remained a distinct lack of overall purpose and direction to my life.

The ultimate fulfillment I sought was finally realized when I accepted Christ. His forgiveness and love has completely altered the course of my life. His peace and joy are now a daily reality.

Like me, most Christians have a testimony about the ways in which Jesus has changed their lives. If you learn to share your story effectively and to answer the objections unbelievers may pose, you will find evangelism easy and will bring many souls to faith in Jesus.

SIX Ways to WIN Souls

In evangelism, it's not enough to say the right thing--you must say it with the right attitude.

Ever noticed that you can say the right thing the wrong way? When this happens your witnessing opportunity can go haywire--your incorrect attitude can create a huge roadblock. Here are some pointers to help you engage in fruitful evangelism.

1. Do your homework. Anticipate the different types of questions your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors will have when witnessing opportunities arise. Not everyone's questions will be the same.

Try to think about every person in your sphere of influence and what sorts of issues they are struggling with. What life experiences have shaped their view of life? What kinds of struggles do they experience in their jobs?

Truth expressed in a relevant manner is the key to meeting an individual's needs.

2. Learn to listen. We must genuinely attempt to understand what the person is saying and what his perspective is. As you listen, ask yourself, "Is this the real issue, or is this merely a symptom of something deeper?" Remember to keep an open ear to the Lord. Let Him speak to you about the person you are talking to.

3. Use questions wisely. Ask questions of the person in an attempt to answer his questions. Just make sure you ask the right questions in the right way. This will often allow an individual to see the answers to his own questions.

Jesus used this form of evangelism when the Pharisees questioned Him about the origin of His authority (see Matt. 21:23-27). He responded by asking them where John the Baptist's authority came from--heaven or Earth? When the Pharisees saw their predicament, they answered that they did not know.

The point of using questions in evangelism is for the other party to see the inadequacy of their worldview and a need for change, not just in their philosophy but also in their experience.

4. Embrace humility. Don't come across as a know-it-all. Humbly admit that there are some questions you just don't know the answers to. But always offer to try to find the answers.

5. Don't pressure people. Jesus called us to make disciples, not decisions. Don't pressure a person who has not fully considered the cost of discipleship. This results in a premature step.

6. Trust God at all times. Many disastrous results could be avoided by simply following this rule of thumb. Remember that Jesus did not pressure the rich young ruler to follow Him (see Luke 18:18-23). Jesus presented the truth, which included what I call "the sacrificial demands" of the gospel in a conviction-filled yet pressure-free environment.

Trust in God's power, not yours. We often forget that rational discussion alone will never convert a human heart or mind.

Remember, there are spiritual barriers as well that attempt to inhibit the gospel's work, resulting in spiritual, not intellectual, blindness (see 2 Cor. 4:4).

Logic and rationale can lead a person to the cross but never through the cross. Only God can do that.

But He does it graciously, and He chooses human vessels to use in this awesome process called evangelism. That's why prayer and evangelism must go hand in hand.

Darwin Dewar is associate pastor of Church on 99 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He is also a chaplain at the University of Alberta.

Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament

Orthodox Jewish Youths Burn New Testaments in Israel

Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land.

Tue, May. 20, 2008 Posted: 18:51:31 PM EST

Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land.

Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon said missionaries recently entered a neighborhood in the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, distributing hundreds of New Testaments and missionary material.

After receiving complaints, Aharon said, he got into a loudspeaker car last Thursday and drove through the neighborhood, urging people to turn over the material to Jewish religious students who went door to door to collect it.

The books were dumped into a pile and set afire in a lot near a synagogue, he said.

The Israeli Maariv daily reported Tuesday that hundreds of Jewish religious school students took part in the book-burning. But Aharon told The Associated Press that only a few students were present, and that he was not there when the books were torched. Not all of the New Testaments that were collected were burned, but hundreds were, he said.

He said he regretted the burning of the books, but called it a "commandment" to burn materials that urge Jews to convert.

"I certainly don't denounce the burning of the booklets," he said. "I denounce those who distributed the booklets."

Jews worship from the Old Testament, including the Five Books of Moses and the writings of the ancient prophets. Christians revere the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, which contains the ministry of Jesus.

Calev Myers, an attorney who represents Messianic Jews, or Jews who accept Jesus as their savior, demanded in an interview with Army Radio that all those involved be put on trial. He estimated there were 10,000 Messianic Jews, who are also known as Jews for Jesus, in Israel.

Police had no immediate comment.

Israeli authorities and Orthodox Jews frown on missionary activity aimed at Jews, though in most cases it is not illegal. Still, the concept of a Jew burning books is abhorrent to many in Israel because of the association with Nazis torching piles of Jewish books during the Holocaust of World War II.

Earlier this year, the teenage son of a prominent Christian missionary was seriously wounded when a package bomb delivered to the family's West Bank home went off in his hands.

Last year, arsonists burst into a Jerusalem church used by Messianic Jews and set the building on fire, raising suspicions that Jewish extremists were behind the attack. No one claimed responsibility, but the same church was burned down 25 years ago by ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremists.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

The Associated Press

The ordination of women remains controversial among many Anglicans

Anglican Church Consecrates Australia's 1st Female Bishop

Australia's Anglican Church consecrated the country's first female bishop on Thursday in a ceremony attended by hundreds but opposed by at least one prominent church leader.

Fri, May. 23, 2008 Posted: 08:00:59 AM EST

PERTH, Australia (AP) - Australia's Anglican Church consecrated the country's first female bishop on Thursday in a ceremony attended by hundreds but opposed by at least one prominent church leader.

Archdeacon Kay Goldsworthy became The Most Rev. Kay Goldsworthy, an assistant bishop in Western Australian state, in the evening ceremony at St. George's Cathedral in the west coast city of Perth.

Twenty-one Anglican bishops from Australia and New Zealand were among a congregation of more than 800 who showed their support for the controversial appointment. Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, Australia's Anglican prelate, conducted the ceremony.

Among those who did not attend was The Most Rev. Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, and the Bishop of Northwest Australia, David Mulready, who oppose the ordination of female ministers. Sydney is Australia's largest diocese.

A meeting last month of Australian Anglican bishops that set protocols for the consecration of female bishops paved the way for Goldsworthy's appointment. Under the protocols, parishes that do not want a female bishop would be offered a male bishop.

Goldsworthy, 51, who is married with two sons, was among the first female priests to be ordained in 1992.

The Anglican Church is the second largest religious denomination in the predominantly Christian Australia after the Roman Catholic Church.

The ordination of women remains controversial among many Anglicans, although female bishops have been ordained elsewhere including in the United States and Canada.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

The Associated Press

Some are erroneously teaching that the cross should not be taught because it's 'divine child abuse

Preaching 'Sound Doctrine' in an Age that Avoids It

Doctrine isn't a popular word among Christians today. Some church leaders avoid the topic when preaching from the pulpit because it tends to divide. So when Seattle church pastor Mark Driscoll began a sermon series specifically on doctrine, he received several phone calls from pastors who lead large flocks asking if anyone is still coming out to listen to the series.

Fri, May. 23, 2008 Posted: 13:54:50 PM EST

Doctrine isn't a popular word among Christians today. Some church leaders avoid the topic when preaching from the pulpit because it tends to divide. So when Seattle church pastor Mark Driscoll began a sermon series specifically on doctrine, he received several phone calls from pastors who lead large flocks asking if anyone is still coming out to listen to the series.

"The rule is, if you have a big church you're supposed to not talk about certain things that are controversial [or] divisive," said Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, which draws mainly twenty-somethings.

But the 37-year-old pastor has his theological convictions and wants both non-Christians and Christians alike to know the core truth claims of Christianity.

Mars Hill is now eight weeks into the 13-week series titled "Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe." Driscoll is taking a break from the pulpit this coming Sunday after having preached on one of the most important and challenged dogmas of the Christian faith – the crucifixion of Jesus and atonement for sins.

"Some are erroneously teaching that the cross should not be taught because it's 'divine child abuse,'" Driscoll told church attendants as he rejected claims that the cross contradicts God's love. "Others would say 'you can't teach the cross because God is love and how will people see the love of God at the cross of Jesus?'"

"My answer is 'the cross IS the love of God,'" he stressed. "Apart from the cross all we have is a sentimental understanding of love. God doesn't just send a greeting card. He goes to a cross and dies. He does something."

Driscoll, who recently opened a sixth Mars Hill Church campus, says he is not a fundamentalist, noting that he's okay with a believer smoking or getting a tattoo. His six churches are also largely adapted to the culture in Seattle in terms of worship style, casual dress and service times. But when a person, especially an influential Christian leader, questions or undermines the essential doctrines of Christianity, Driscoll "freaks out."

"I get a nervous eye twitch," he said this week while attending the Purpose Driven Network Summit at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

He's also not pleased when preachers leave out doctrine and Jesus from sermons.

"So much preaching today is about seven steps to this, four steps to that, 13 steps to this. I'm totally fine if you want to have a great marriage [or] improve your business," Driscoll said. "But at the end of the day, are people learning about who Jesus is and what he's done?"

"Are we trying to give people principles without power, meaning follow [Jesus'] example but don't live in relationship with him?" he posed.

At Mars Hill Church, attendants are required to take "Gospel Class," which teaches Christian truths, in order to become members of the church. Driscoll admitted that half the people that have taken the class have gone on to become members while the other half left over disagreements with various doctrines. The current sermon series on doctrine will replace "Gospel Class" to facilitate church membership for thousands of people.

The entire "Doctrine" sermon series at Mars Hill will be published as part of a book series and small group curriculum will also be developed to accompany the book to help Christians and churches grow in "sound doctrine," Driscoll announced. The Seattle pastor continues his sermon series on June 1 with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Lillian Kwon
Christian Post Reporter

had no brain waves for more than 17 hour

Miracle: Woman Wakes Up after 'Death Set In'

The Thomas family experienced a medical miracle and wants everyone to know.

Fri, May. 23, 2008 Posted: 16:59:48 PM EST

The Thomas family experienced a medical miracle and wants everyone to know.

Val Thomas from West Virginia died and her family said their farewell. But 10 minutes after her heart stopped a third time, she miraculously woke up and called for her son.

"I feel very blessed," Thomas told NewsNet5. "I know God has something in store for me, another purpose. I don't know what it is but I'm sure he'll tell me."

Thomas' heart had stopped at home on Saturday at 1:30 a.m. Doctors at a West Virginia hospital say she suffered two heart attacks and had no brain waves for more than 17 hours, according to the local news channel.

Jim Thomas, her son, said her skin had already started to harden and her fingers curled.

"Death had set in," he said.

At the hospital, she was put on a special machine that induces hypothermia but then her heart stopped again.

"She had no neurological function," Dr. Kevin Eggleston told the news channel.

Daniel Pence, nephew of Val Thomas, commented, "I said to God just show me something. I know there's something here. And I didn't see it."

Val Thomas' chance of surviving was less than 10 percent.

The Thomas family began praying and son Jim said he felt peace.

But as doctors and family members were saying goodbye, a miracle happened.

"That's when Jesus Christ had stepped in and did his work," said Jim as he described the medical miracle.

When the nurses began to remove tubing from the mother, her arm moved, Pence explained. Then she coughed, her eyes fluttered and she began talking.

"She (the nurse) said, 'I'm so sorry Mrs. Thomas.' And mom said, 'That's OK honey. That's OK," Jim Thomas said.

Doctors as the Cleveland Clinic, where she was transferred, say the mother will be fine.

Nathan Black
Christian Post Reporter

Has lost its evangelistic passion? must refocus on the Divine Obsession !

So. Baptists Now a 'Declining Denomination'

For the first time, Southern Baptists can say membership has reached a tipping point and the nation's largest Protestant denomination is now declining, says one long-time Southern Baptist.

Thu, Apr. 24, 2008 Posted: 14:42:18 PM EST

For the first time, Southern Baptists can say membership has reached a tipping point and the nation's largest Protestant denomination is now declining, says one long-time Southern Baptist.

"The decline that many of us have already believed is there is now becoming real," said Ed Stetzer, director for LifeWay Research, in an interview featured on, a Web site for pastors and church leaders.

Baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention fell for the third straight year in 2007 to the denomination's lowest level since 1987, dropping nearly 5.5 percent to 345,941, according to LifeWay Christian Resources' Annual Church Profile (ACP), which was released this week.

Total membership also declined by 0.24 percent to 16,266,920.

"This report is truly disheartening," said LifeWay president Thom S. Rainer, according to Baptist Press. "Total membership showed a slight decline. Baptisms have now declined for three consecutive years and for seven of the last eight years, and are at their lowest level since 1987. Indeed, the total baptisms are among the lowest reported since 1970. We are a denomination that, for the most part, has lost its evangelistic passion."

While technically membership has only dropped for one year, Stetzer cautioned fellow Baptists from dismissing the data.

"We don't want people to say 'it's not a big deal.' It is a big deal," he said.

"Southern Baptists have always said 'We're growing. We're growing slow.' You can't say it anymore."

Total membership dipped once before, and then grew in the following years. But this time, Stetzer believes the growth over the past five decades has plateaued.

"Many have predicted that membership (an inflated statistic anyway) would soon begin to decline, but the statement, 'Southern Baptists are a declining denomination' was not 'officially' accurate.

"Until today," he said in his blog on Wednesday.

And while the Southern Baptist Convention added 473 new churches in 2007, gave more than $1.3 billion to support mission activities around the world, and saw a 0.16 percent increase in worship attendance, Stetzer believes the denomination cannot ignore the trend moving toward decline.

"Some might want to point to the good news (attendance up slightly, more churches, etc.). However, you cannot miss the fact that a dubious historical milestone has been reached – and it needs to be noted in denominational and church offices across the country," he said.

"My hope is this will cause people to wake up and change," he commented.

Offering a few suggestions for change, Stetzer said the Southern Baptist Convention needs ethnic and generational diversity in its leadership. Also, the "infighting" has to stop. Debates over theological differences and boundaries at every denominational meeting would only accelerate the trend toward decline, he said.

Most importantly, the recovery of the Gospel in Southern Baptist life is key, he said.

"We must recover a Gospel centrality and cooperate in proclaiming that gospel locally and globally," Stetzer stressed, as he expressed hope for a Great Commission Resurgence.

"It is time for us to once again rise to a new day," he stated. "The temptation will be that the news of the day will result in a new denominational obsession to fix the problem with a new plan. It won’t work. Instead we must refocus on the Divine Obsession (Luke 15), the obsession with lost people."

Lillian Kwon
Christian Post Reporter

Friday, May 23, 2008

Best Practices for Deepening Discipleship

Family is most important small group in the church, say pastors

by Katherine T Phan, Christian Post
Posted: Friday, May 23, 2008, 6:17 (BST)

LAKE FOREST, California – A panel of pastors speaking at a conference for church leaders in the Purpose Driven network on Wednesday agreed that the process to deepen discipleship should involve some form of small groups but shared unique positions on how to structure disciple-making.

Steve Stroop, pastor of Lake Point Church in Texas, said it is the family that is the most important small group in the church.

"The family should be the primary vehicle for discipleship," the Dallas-based pastor told the international crowd of pastors and Christian leaders convening at Saddleback Church. "God created the family before he created the church ... Parents are responsible for winning their kids to Christ and discipling them."

Stroop was among the 35 influential pastors selected by Rick Warren to speak at the 2008 Purpose Driven Network Summit, which kicked off Tuesday. Panel discussions during the three-day conference put a new spin on the annual Purpose Driven gatherings.

During the "Best Practices for Deepening Discipleship" panel on Wednesday, Stroop said he grew concerned that church members had "outsourced" the discipleship of their children to Sunday School teachers like they would their laundry.

His church has made an attempt to create a culture of family discipleship. The church began to resource the parents by installing a permanent kiosk designed to answer parenting and marriage questions and screening the camp services to parents to make it easier for them to discuss the messages presented.

Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll, who preaches to a robust crowd of singles in their 20s, uses a more digital approach to moving his Seattle congregants through the discipleship process. His church created its own social networking system dubbed "The City" to better connect people.

"You have small group, prayer requests, and that continues digitally," Driscoll explained.

The multi-site church also has a members-only Web site area where people get answers after posting a question.

According to Driscoll, the Web site helps guide people to the church's "front door" or "living room" and eventually to classes and conferences.

Tammy Gill, a small group minister attending the conference, told The Christian Post that she felt the Web site was important but the technological know-how was an issue.

"I wanted to use it as part of our small group ministry as a way to encourage our leaders and as a way for them to interact with their group members," said Gill, who represents The Kirk of the Hills in Tulsa, Okla. "But at this point, I don't have someone that can help me with the technology."

Daniel S Kim of Sa-rang Community Church in Anaheim, California, pointed out that churches should distinguish between small groups for the sake of fellowship and for the sake of disciple-making.

Discipleship-training is a "totally different kind of small group", offered Kim.

Out of the panel, Kim presented the most systematic approach to discipleship-making.

Although members of his church, who include a significant number of “1.5 generation” Koreans, participate in small group fellowships, they also are asked to go through a discipleship-training program that lasts a little over one and a half years. During the first four months, members do Bible study one-on-one or one-on-two. Church pastors then guide members in groups of 12 through an eight-month session. Finally, Kim takes over to lead them in an eight-month leadership training.

Leaders who pass the discipleship training can then go on to lead small groups and be an "inspiration" to their members to be more like Jesus Christ, explained Kim.

We feed them "until they are able to raise their own lamb", he highlighted.

The panel discussion at one point became so heavily centered around small groups that Radiant Church pastor Lee MacFarland said, "I think I'm on the wrong panel."

The Arizona-based pastor admitted that he did not truly understand the meaning of discipleship until a fitness trainer came alongside him to help him maneuver the gym, from weight loss to bench-pressing 100-lb dumbbells. MacFarland said he learned that his trainer was spending more time teaching him to lift weights than the Radiant pastor was spending on the spiritual growth of his members.

From the entire discussion, it was MacFarland's story illustration that resonated the most with Pastor Jim Fleming of Collierville Bible Church in Tennessee.

"The process was far more robust and rigorous than the typical small group meeting," Fleming commented. "I have been thinking the same thing – that discipleship, pouring yourself into another individual, goes way beyond the traditional 'small group ministry.'"

"Is this kind of discipleship on our radar? Most of the discussion made me wonder."

This year’s Purpose Driven Network Summit is expected to be watershed moment for Warren's P.E.A.C.E. plan, in which peace ambassadors are sent to countries around the world to carry out the five actions that Jesus modelled, including promoting reconciliation/planting churches, equipping leaders, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation.

Bestselling author of The Purpose Driven Life, Warren was scheduled to go public Thursday with the P.E.A.C.E. coalition – a network of churches, business, and NGOs.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

When you're in a microlight if you crash, you usually die

Pilots land on a wing and a prayer

Wed May 21, 2008 2:12pm EDT

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Two New Zealand pilots whose plane ran out of fuel landed on a wing and a prayer, literally, local media reported on Wednesday.

Grant Stubbs and Owen Wilson from Blenheim, at the top of the South Island about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Wellington, were in a microlight plane when the engine cut out.

"When you're in a microlight if you crash, you usually die. I turned to O B (Wilson) and he said we had no fuel," Stubbs told the Marlborough Express newspaper.

"I asked what we should do. He said: 'You just pray Grant.'"

Stubbs said he prayed to God to get them over a ridge and they finally landed in a small grassy area, and beside a 20 foot high sign saying "Jesus is Lord -- The Bible."

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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It simply does not have the right to erase, then recast, the age-old definition of marriage

Top California court rules gays may marry

Fri May 16, 2008 12:47pm EDT

By Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The California Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriages on Thursday in a major victory for gay rights advocates that will allow homosexual couples to marry in the most populous U.S. state.

The court found that California laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples are at odds with rights guaranteed by the state's constitution. Opponents of gay marriage vowed to contest the ruling with a statewide ballot measure for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages.

The ruling would allow California to be the second state, after Massachusetts, to allow gay marriage. Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont permit same-sex civil unions that grant largely similar rights as those for married couples but lack the full, federal legal protections of marriage.

The California court's 4-3 decision overturns state laws prohibiting same-sex nuptials and is likely to influence other states expected to rule on gay marriage.

The state's constitution "guarantees same-sex couples the same substantive constitutional rights as opposite-sex couples to choose one's life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized, and protected family relationship," the court said.

Gay marriage has been one of the most divisive issues in recent American politics and has mobilized millions of socially conservative Christian voters to support candidates such as President George W. Bush who oppose it.

In San Francisco, a bastion of gay rights with its large and vocal gay community, people were quick to react to the landmark ruling and started making marriage plans.

Susan Graham, 46, sent a text message to her female partner of 10 years proposing marriage. She responded: "Are you kidding? Absolutely."

Bruce Ivie, 51, and partner David Bowers, 61, were the first people at the San Francisco court clerk's office to obtain a copy of the decision.

"Sweet," Ivie said on finding the decision's bottom line on the state's ban on gay marriage. "The second paragraph says it all to me: It's unconstitutional."


Californians in 2000 voted to reaffirm a 1977 state law defining marriage as union of a man and woman. But four years later, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom challenged that law by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, which led to the court battle decided on Thursday by the state Supreme Court.

Newsom said his controversial policy had been vindicated and that he plans to resume issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples in coming weeks.

"It's an exhilarating feeling. That's the best I can describe it," Newsom said. "At the end of the day, this is about real people and their lives and their families, and it doesn't get much more personal than that."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had opposed San Francisco's marriage licenses for gays, said he would uphold the state supreme court's decision.

"Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state supreme court ruling," he said.

A dissenting opinion by Judge Marvin Baxter and joined by Judge Ming Chin said a narrow majority of the court had carved a constitutional right out of existing equal-protection laws, overstepping legislative powers in what amounted to "legal jujitsu." A third justice dissented on different grounds.

"It simply does not have the right to erase, then recast, the age-old definition of marriage, as virtually all societies have understood it, in order to satisfy its own contemporary notions of equality and justice," Baxter wrote.

But the Judicial Council of California, which oversees state courts, said the ruling is final in 30 days and municipalities must prepare to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Opponents of gay marriage said they will ask voters in the November election to endorse a constitutional amendment on the state ballot that would supersede the court's ruling by defining marriage exclusively as between a man and woman.

"These out-of-touch California judges will not have the last word on marriage," said Brian Brown, head of the National Organization for Marriage California.

Both sides of the debate agreed the California court's decision raised the stakes in the national debate over gay marriage. Newsom predicted it would resonate across the United States: "As California goes, so goes the nation," he said.

Randy Thomasson of Campaign for Children and Families said that scenario would further energize opponents of gay marriage.

"If these judges get away with it, other state supreme courts may get the same idea they can make up the law," Thomasson said.

(Additional reporting by Amanda Beck and Eric Auchard in San Francisco, Suzanne Hurt in Sacramento and Mark Egan in New York; Editing by Mary Milliken and Philip Barbara)

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If the church ceases to do evangelism, is it the true church?

Franklin Graham under fire for Olympic evangelism comment

by Michelle A Vu, Christian Post
Posted: Saturday, May 17, 2008, 5:48 (BST)

American evangelist Franklin Graham came under fire for saying he opposed evangelism during the Beijing Olympic Games.

Graham had made the comment to Chinese reporters during his recent trip to mainland China, where he visited government officials, church leaders, and preached to 12,000 people at a Chinese megachurch.

The eldest son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham said he opposed missionary work during the Games because it is prohibited under Chinese law, and he does not encourage anything illegal.

In response, a respected religious freedom activist defended Chinese house church Christians as “law-abiding, patriotic citizens” who are not doing anything wrong by following their faith which teaches them to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“[Christians] cannot and will not [concede] to a ‘faith moratorium’ in order to please an atheistic government during the Olympic Games, even if that means enduring imprisonment and torture,” said Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association, in a statement on Wednesday.

Fu, who was recently honoured by President Bush for his religious freedom advocacy in China, denounced the Chinese law as unjust because it asked Christians to go against the teachings of Jesus Christ.

He called Graham’s comment about submitting to the ban on Olympic evangelism “a deep offense” to the hundreds of house church prisoners and their family members.

In China, the Christian population is divided into two groups – those worshipping in the state-sanctioned churches under the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and those attending unregistered house churches.

TSPM leaders have publicly stated that foreign evangelistic efforts during the Beijing Olympics are not welcome or tolerated, Fu said. But house churches feel differently.

“To the house church leaders, it’s an issue of the lordship of Christ to the church,” Fu explained to OneNewsNow. “And if the church ceases to do evangelism, is it the true church? It’s a big question.”

Religious freedom has improved in communist China in recent years, but the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) this year still recommended the State Department to keep China on its religious freedom blacklist because of its treatment of house churches and religious minorities not recognised by the Chinese Government.

Recent persecution of unregistered churches include the arrest of 270 Protestant house church pastors in December, and the expulsion of more than 100 foreign missionaries last summer – the largest event of its kind since 1954 after the communist government took power in 1949.

God's Recruitment Strategy for Leaders

Source: Crosswalk: Today God Is First

Acts 9:8
Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.

When God calls one of His servants into service, there is often much travail. There are many examples where God makes His presence known through circumstances that tax the individual to his very soul.

Consider Paul, who was stricken blind on the Damascus road.

Consider Peter; when he denied Jesus after the crucifixion, he was in total despair.

Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were thrown into the fiery furnace.

Consider Daniel, who was thrown into the lion's den.

Consider David, who was forced to flee his former employer for many years and lived as a fugitive.

It may seem strange to us that God uses such incredible adversity to prepare His servants for greater service, but this is God's way. God knows that the human heart is incapable of voluntarily stepping into situations that take us beyond our comfort zone. He intentionally brings us into hard places to prove us and to drive us deeper into the soil of His grace.

In arid regions of the world, trees cannot survive unless their roots grow deeper to where the water table can be found. Once they reach the water, these trees become stronger than any tree that can be found in tropical climates. Their root systems ensure that they can withstand any storm. In the same way, God brings us into extremely difficult situations in order to prove His power and drive our spiritual roots deeper.

Friend, God may take you through times when you will question His love for you. In such times, you must cling to His coattail so that you see His purposes in it. Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But My righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him" (Hebrews 10:36-38).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


20 May 2008

Dear Prayer Partners,

1. Thank you for keeping me in prayers during the camp in Kuching. The Lord marvelously touched many of the Bidayuh students during the camp.

2. Some of them were from the previous camp last year and wanted to come again. They had shared with their friends how real and great the Lord is. Its always a great joy to see the tribal people worshipping Jesus, the Lamb of God.

3. It is most unfortunate that strong denominational pride keep many from being Christ-centered and kingdom minded. May we all respond to Jesus’ prayer, that we be brought to complete unity to let the world know that God has sent Jesus! (John 17:23)

4. After the camp, I took the opportunity to visit and pray with ex-students and preach in various churches. The Lord opened many doors to minister His word. I had the privilege to preach in a Hagar’s descendant church and see the work of the Lord among them. He is always working – and we need to align our lives to His divine movements and seasons.

5. I flew to Miri and saw and hear of God’s mighty revival work among the Ibans. For the past few years, they have been responding to the gospel in the thousands. But as usual the church is two or three generations behind time and wondering how to reach out to them.

6. The revival and salvations that we had prayed and fasted for decades ago is happening right now. We need more trained pastors, committed spiritual lay leaders, translated/written literature in Iban, finances, and much more to capitalize on the current revival.

7. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more laborers! It could be you! J Pray for me too as I consider what is the best way I can contribute in building up the kingdom of God among the Ibans in the midst of their revival.

God is moving and advancing! Time for us to get out of our complacent zone!

8. Then I flew to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah to visit some of the ex-students there. I am saddened and heart-broken to hear that a number of them had converted to other religion, especially due to marriage reasons.

9. This is a major stronghold in the lives of the people there that needs to be broken by the power of God. They need to submit to the Lordship of Christ in their lives. Pray for me to have wisdom as I seek to reach out to them.

10. Pray also for me to receive greater anointings as the ministry continues to grow rapidly. Pray for Jessie and Ana as well so that the enemy will not be able to attack them, but that they will walk victoriously under the favor of the Lord.

As history shows, the church can only expect true Revival when a remnant of God's people get DESPERATE - desperate about the backslidden state of the church, desperate about the lukewarmness within them and all around them, desperate about sin and compromise, desperate about the fact that God is not GLORIFIED, that He is not truly LORD of His church, that His words are mocked and largely seen as irrelevant by a dying world. Revival will come when God's people truly humble themselves … Andrew Strom

Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson announced that gay marriage is a new truth revealed by the Holy Spirit?

Whatever Happened to the Fear of God?

If we want the same level of supernatural anointing that was evident in the New Testament church, we should also pray for a higher level of holiness.

We charismatics yearn for a return to the raw intensity of the early church—the angelic visitations, power encounters, prophecies, mass conversions and missionary adventures. I want all of that! The book of Acts is the gold standard for normative Christianity, and we shouldn’t rest until we see it manifested in our generation.

But those first-century miracles didn’t happen in a vacuum. They flowed from a praying church that was bathed in humility and holiness. The early disciples had not only been baptized in the Holy Spirit; they had also been baptized with fire (see Matt. 3:11). And the fire of God is a cleansing flame that burns up sin and produces the fear of the Lord.

We tend to forget that the same people who experienced tongues on the day of Pentecost, and then witnessed the healing of a lame beggar in Jerusalem, also watched in horror as Ananias and Sapphira—two influential but compromising church members—dropped dead because God’s presence was so strong. When their bodies were carried away, the Bible says, “great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11, NASB).

Do we want that level of God’s presence? The fear that came on the early church is also called a “sense of awe” in Acts 2:43. We often downplay the fear of God by saying that it really means “reverence.” But the Greek word used in Acts 5:11 and Acts 2:43 is phobos, which can be translated “exceeding dread, alarm or terror.”

We love the ecstatic joy and the goose bumps that accompany revival meetings. But revival is not fun and games. Are we ready for the terror?

As I pray for revival in my own life and in my nation, I have started praying regularly for the fear of the Lord. And I think it will manifest in some key areas:

1. Truthfulness.
When we walk in close fellowship with the Holy Spirit we will feel an immediate sense of conviction if we say anything false or misleading. That conviction will hound us until we repent and repair the damage we have done with our mouths. We will hear the word of the Lord echoing in our conscience: “Do not lie to one another” (Col. 3:9).

I realized a few years ago that I sometimes lied when someone asked me if I had read a certain book or knew of a certain celebrity or sports figure. Even if I did not know anything about the subject of the conversation, I would nod and pretend that I was informed. I recognized later that I did this out of insecurity, hoping to appear knowledgeable. I had to repent of pride and ask God to help me be honest.

This may seem minor, but little white lies breed serious deceit. If we have no fear of God, we will exaggerate and think nothing of it. This can become a crisis when church leaders, in their zeal for revival, are careless when reporting miracles, healings or numbers of conversions. Exaggeration is lying. If we build a ministry by stretching the truth, we stand on shaky ground. Christ’s kingdom cannot be built on hype.

We often assume that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was greed. But the Bible actually says they were struck dead because they lied to the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5:3). They sold a piece of property and pretended to give all the money to the apostles when in fact they had kept some of the proceeds for themselves. They were trying to look good in the eyes of church leaders. They were attempting to buy favor and influence—and God caught them in the act.

2. Sexual purity. All of us know that the American church is facing a sexual crisis. Some denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, have bowed to the spirit of Baal to embrace homosexual practice as acceptable behavior. Recently, Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson announced that gay marriage is a new truth revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Thankfully the charismatic world hasn’t slipped to that level of depravity. But we have never witnessed so much moral failure in our ranks. Many ministers are living double lives and hiding their girlfriends and out-of-wedlock babies. In my city, one prominent minister had an affair with a stripper and went right on preaching from the same pulpit without skipping a beat.

If I am walking in the fear of God, I will not peek at pornography, entertain fantasy or cross a sexual boundary. And if I am in church leadership, I will never allow ministers with questionable sexual reputations to defile the congregation by allowing him to lay hands on them or impart his defilement. I don’t care how “anointed” a man of God is or how accurate his prophecies are. If he has been engaging in immorality and has not been restored properly, he will infect people with his sin if we give him a platform.

3. Financial integrity. We should learn from the example of Eli’s reprobate sons, Hophni and Phinehas, that God does not wink at extortion — especially when it involves money that has been given to God. These “worthless” men were judged severely because they had their hands in the offering plate (see 1 Sam. 2:12-17).

The eighth commandment forbids stealing. Yet in the “Spirit-filled” church today, ministers think nothing of robbing the saints. Too often the collection of the offering turns into a circus involving manipulation, theatrics and the twisting of Scripture—as well as arms—to meet a budget goal. Why should we be surprised when God’s presence lifts at that point in the service?

If we truly fear the Lord we will be conscious of the fact that He watches how we handle money in His house. He sees every dollar that is given. Heaven keeps accurate accounting. God knows how we word our financial appeals and if we use the money for one thing when it was pledged for another.

4. Reverence for God. In some charismatic churches today, leaders have introduced a trendy new teaching that compares God to drugs. They proclaim that “Jesus is my D.O.C.”—my “Drug of Choice.” In a bizarre attempt to be relevant with our culture, they compare a spiritual encounter with God to a heroin overdose. In one instance, a group of people pretended to shoot invisible needles into their arms as they prayed for one another and asked God for His anointing. And this was in a so-called “revival service”!

One minister in Oregon refers to God as “Jehovahjuana” — implying that the Lord can give you a marijuana high. Another conference speaker in California put a plastic Jesus from a nativity scene into his mouth and encouraged a group of teens to “smoke baby Jesus.” The kids all laughed and everyone thought this was a hoot.

Actually, mishandling the name of the Lord in such a flippant manner, and comparing God to an illegal drug, is what the Bible calls blasphemy. We do not have permission to dishonor His character by changing His name to something sinful and degrading.

How desperately we need the dreadful fire of His holy presence! I hope we will all cry out together the prayer of David in Psalm 86:11: “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.”

J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma. You can join him next week for a live conference call with Mark Hall, lead singer of the band Casting Crowns, when Lee interviews Mark about how we can reach the younger generation for Christ. Sign up for the call at