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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Creating community part cinq

I left our small group last night with mixed emotions. I was on the one hand excited about those who were genuinely interested in starting a small group (our small group was a "turbo" group that was created so that couples could come together to experience small group with the possibility of starting one this fall. We had our usual fun time together sharing, connecting and praying together.

On the other hand, it was sad, because it was the last time that we will together on a consistent basis as a group.

Relationships were formed, bonds were created.

We prayed and Alex got a new job.

We ministered to Dan and Barb when Dan's dad passed away.

We prayed with Matt and Elizabeth concerning some extended family issues.

To be candid with you, that might not have happened if we weren't in relationship, connecting with each other.

Here's some observations we came away with from our group (not in any order):

Keep the group small
Let the group evolve to its own purpose
Relationships are the purpose
Be flexible as to attendance
Find ways to reach those who don't know Christ is select settings and times outside of regular small group meetings
Be vulnerable (vulnerability brings forth vulnerability)
Don't worry if the house if perfect or not
Use paper plates
Just do it!
Learn as you go
Each small group meeting can be different

Now then, let's summarize the section five of Andy Stanley's book, Creating community.

This section is entitled, "processes need reality".

Stanley writes, "we must make a distinction between a person who leads a group meeting and a person who leads a group."

A person who leads a group meeting can be anyone in the group who is comfortable with navigating the discussion.

He writes, "because of this, we encourage our groups to rotate responsibility for leading the discussion" (which we did in our small group with a lot of success).

A person who leads or oversees a group, on the other hand, is someone who meets five reasonable criteria.

1. Leaders have to be connected. Connected to First Assembly.

2. Leaders need character.

3. Leaders must embrace our groups culture, that "relational" is the word to describe where we want to be at First Assembly.

4. Leaders must have good chemistry with other leaders

5. Leaders need to have a level of competence.

The role of the leader is simply to serve as a shepherd in two ways: by faciliating the group and by monitoring the group.

This has to do with process issues, such as where the group is headed, when and where the group meets, who is leading the group and what the group will be studying. Also....People issues, such as how connected people are feeling, how openly people are sharing, how much people are growing, and whether the group is poised to multiply.

Stanley goes on to write that we don't need more information to start a small group, we simply need to apply what we know.

We have so brainwashed the church that we think to effectively minister we must sit in rows and fill a notebook with ideas and "learn" the concepts before we serve.


I quote, "people need to be trained around the core principles they need to know, not an endless amount of information that is nice for them to know."

What are the six essentials we need to know?

1. Think life change. The purpose of a small group is to see life change.

2. Cultivate relationships. Relationships are like bank accounts: They require regular, intentional deposits.

3. Promote participation

4. Replace yourself As leaders, we train leaders while we lead.

5. Provide care.

6. Multiply influence...Multiply!

Finally, Stanley writes that we must set up for success.

We set ourselves up by success by focusing on the few things we do really well and keeping our church's strategy simple.

We don't try to do everything.

I quote, "if a ministry isn't a step toward community, we don't do it."


Let me end this series on a personal note.

I am convinced that this is the direction we need to go as a church family. I know that not everybody will get excited about small groups (that's not my expectation level), and I know that small group ministry is not perfect.

But it's biblical, personal, relational and takes up beyond our own personal comfort zones to a lifestyle of truly living our faith. Isn't that what it's all about?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Creating community part quatre

Mike Yaconelli in his book, "Messy Spirituality" writes:

"Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. It is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins where we are now in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality, not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws, but because we let go of seeking perfection and instead seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives. Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God's being present in the mess of our unfixedness."

Connection is so very important in our culture today. People want to connect. That's not the issue. The issue is breaking us all out of our apathy and lethargy to connect. Connection costs. It costs our time and effort.

Andy Stanley writes, "As important as small groups are in executing our strategy, it all falls apart if people have a difficult time connecting. If they cannot get into a group, then we cannot deliver on the benefits of a group."

So true.

Let's again ask the questions:

What do we want people to become?
What do we want people to do?
Where do we want them to go?

This is done in steps, incrementally.

There are three different "locations" to describe our environments that can connect people relationally and help move them into small groups.

Stanley calls it their, "foyer to kitchen" strategy.

Like the rooms of a house, the environments of the church function for different purposes to help people connect.

We desire that people go from the foyer as a guest, to our living room as a friend, to our kitchen as family. We desire that our small groups connect to the extent that people have "refrigerator rights," as Randall Neighbor said.

Let's go to the foyer. Foyers are to be designed to change people's minds about church. Most people today don't have a problem with God, they have a problem with the church. They view the church as being irrelevant to their everyday lives.

The foyer would be our worship services on Sunday mornings.

We must continually stay relevant to where people are!

Then there is the living room. Our living rooms are medium-sized environments designed to change people's minds about connecting.

This would be our adult electives and other smaller settings where people begin to get to know one another.

Then there is the kitchen table.

The kitchen table is often where life's most meaningful conversations take place.

It's where we being to feel like family.

Small groups are to be designed to change people's minds about their priorities, as Stanley writes, "that through the activity of God and the influence of their group, their priorities and God's priorities will line up; that over time, their lives will change."

One of the barriers to participating in a small group is the decision-making process of deciding where we fit in.

Some people fear they will be trapped if they join a group..That after a few weeks, the group will not be what they wanted or expected and it will be too late...They will be STUCK.

As Stanley writes, "and so for the next eighteen to twenty-four months, they will be condemned to group hell."

North Point Church has 8 week "starter" groups, which is a group that "dates" for 8 weeks. If the group gels, they continue on for the entire covenant period as a fully functioning community group. If it doesn't no hard feelings. No questions ask.

Let me ask you these question and try to generate some response. How can we do this at First Assembly of God. How can we help people overcome this fear?

How can we get folks to join a small group while overcoming the barriers of feeling trapped by the commitment levels involved?

What are some barriers for people getting into a small group?

Why is establishing clear expectations form the beginning so important for a group's success? How could you do this effectively in your setting?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Creating community part trois

Now then, what is going to be our strategy?

Andy Stanley asks the question: When people think of your organization, what is the word they will associate with it?

Another question is: What do we want it to be?

Are we an "evangelistic" church?

Are we a "worship" church?

Are we a "doctrinal" church?

Are we a "recovery" church?

Are we a "service" church?

Or are we a combination of any of these?

What is "our" word?

What we are seeking is to be a "relational" church.

We desire to emphasize our relationship with God, intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with outsiders.

In the pursuit of these relationships:

Some come to faith
People worship
Truth is taught
the broken recover
and material needs are met.

We want to "do" ministry in the context of relationship in communities, as Stanley writes, "not on committees."

Churches need strategy. And I agree that finding our "word" is a great place to start in defining what our strategy will be.

So...let's go on.

How do we choose our strategy (our plan of action..Intended to accomplish a specific goal)."

A great strategy is simple to understand and easy to implement.

I understand the philosophy of "seeing people saved" at church. I lived that for almost 20 years of being a pastor.

I still desire to "see people saved" at church.

Sometimes, however, people want to belong before they are willing to believe.

As Stanley writes, "they want to "taste and see" if it is good before they are willing to jump in.

Why small groups?

Groups decentralize church leadership and care. Our groups gives us many shepherds in our church, not just a few.

Groups enable more people to serve.

Groups help develop authentic community.

Groups offer maximum flexibility.

This point is especially important for group leaders who might be experiencing burnout.

Groups members can schedule their own meetings times around their personal schedules. No one is tied down to meeting at one time on one particular day. The group can meet on the day they choose.

Some might meet once a week, some twice a month, some once a month.

Groups don't only offer flexibility when they meet, but also where they meet. They can meet anywhere or, if they so choose, they can rotate meeting locations to avoid burnout on one specific leader.

Groups allow us to be better stewards.

Groups remove the primary limits to growth.

What is the overall goal of a small group? Multiplication! Multiplication in the short term is hard, but in the long term is very profitable. Like every living thing, every group has a life cycle (Randall Neighbor said 18 months). Every group eventually comes to an end.

That's why one of our ultimate goals is to start a group so that other groups might be started!

Stuff to chew on.....

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Creating community part deux

I read a quote this morning when I sat down to my desk: "We are not put on this earth for ourselves, but are placed here for each other. If you are there always for others, then in time of need, someone will be there for you."

Jesus put it like this, "give and it will be given to you."

In other words, when I open myself up to relationship with others, I receive relationship and community in return.

It costs doesn't it. It costs our time and effort, but are the rewards great or what!

We talked yesterday about the dream that God has for all of us - to live in community. Today let's ask the question. What are some of the things we need to consider to make God's dream a reality? What are some strategies that allow the prayer of Jesus (that we might be one) to be experienced by more and more people?

Well, we must clarify our goal. What is the point of our church? We can get so busy as a church family and get caught up in the "tyranny of the urgent."

Let's ask ourselves these three questions:

1. What do we want people to become? In other words what do we want the result of our small groups to be?

A lot of churches are either skill-based churches (people becoming proficient and effective in certain skills. There are classes, seminars, courses, conference, training, and lots of it. And "lots of it," is better right? Or not?

A lot of churches are Bible-knowledge churches. Their core purpose is to help people become biblically literate. Let me quote Andy Stanley, "on the surface, this seems to be a very noble goal. What church that believes in the divine inspiration of the Bible doesn't want its people to be biblically literate...But in and of themselves, I would suggest they aren't the goal."

What is our goal? Jesus said it well in Matthew 28 to, "...Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you."

We are to make disciples. And here's an important quote from Andy, "Jesus was saying that as we go through the NORMAL STUFF OF LIFE - as we go to work, interact with our friends, and do all the things we normally do - our purpose is to relationally connect with people in such a way that it encourages them to follow Christ.

2. What do we want people to do?

The first question is the what? The second is the how?

We want people to love God and love people. Jesus said to, "love the Lord your God with all your heart...And love your neighbor as yourself."

This is not a one time love but a love that shows itself on a continual, daily basis.

I would suggest to you that spiritual growth is not one more seminar or conference but a process measured by demonstrative growth in our love for God and for others. I quote, "it is not a complete program or the acquisition of a skill, but a continual expression of love in our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with one another. Saying spiritual maturity is a point in time is like saying physical fitness is a point in time."

Intimacy in any relationship just doesn't happen.

So we are to love others within our church family, and those outside our church family.

What do we want people to become? We want them to grow in their relationship with Christ. What do we want people to do? Continually pursue three vital relationships - intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with outsiders.

3. Where do we want people to go?

What is "home plate" for our church?

Is it a "class" where someone learns more?
Is it a service group that impacts the community or an area inside the church?
Is it a doctrinal seminar for new members?

All of these of good in and of themselves.

Or is it a small group where people are relating and growing in Christ together?

What do we want people to become? People growing in their relationship Jesus Christ?

What do we want people to do? Pursue three vital relationships. Where do we want people to go? Into a small group.

Love God and Love people!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Creating community

Andy Stanley has a great little book out called, "Creating community - 5 keys to building a small group culture."

Great book.

I like his quote on the flyleaf of the book, "small groups are not an appendage to our ministry; they ARE our ministry. We think groups. We are driven by groups."

This is the direction we are headed in as a church.

Let's summarize the 5 keys in the next 5 days, taking a key a day.

Key number one:

People need community.

Stanley talks about going to Starbucks and finding a card there that they give employees that states on the front of the card, "create community. Make a difference in someone's day." On the back of the card it states, "When you work at Starbucks, you can make a difference in someone's day by creating an environment where neighbors and friends can get together and reconnect while enjoying a great coffee experience."

Wouldn't it be interesting to have a card that we hand out at our church that says on the front, "create community. Make a difference in someone's day."

And then on the back it could say, "When you come to First Assembly, you can make a difference in someone's day by creating an environment where neighbors and friends can get together and reconnect while enjoying the presence of God."

People are lonely. I am around people all day, every day, and yet there are times in the midst of a crowd that I feel lonely. I don't think I'm the only one. The only way to overcome loneliness is to connect with others on a deeper level.

Stanley writes, "We are a culture carving relationship. In the midst of our crowded existence, many of us are living lonely lives. We live and work in a sea of humanity, but we end up missing out on the benefits of regular, meaningful relationships."

God intended from the very beginning that we live in relationship with others. When we aren't in meaningful relationship, we suffer natural consequences, whether we realize it or not.

We lose perspective on life.
We begin to fear intimacy
We become selfish
We begin to experience poor health.

Stanley writes, "Living life alone does not accurately reflect the One whose image we bear."

Henry Cloud writes, "God created us with a hunger for relationship-for relationship with him and with our fellow people. At our very core we are relational beings."

One of God's biggest dreams for us is authentic community.

Did you know that God has a dream for you?

Jesus prayed in John 17, .....protect them by the power of your name - the name you gave me - so that they may be ONE as we are one."

God desires that we be one.

God desires that we truly live out our faith, being real with one another in authenticity and truth.

Jesus goes on to pray in John 17:21, "so that the world may believe that you have sent me."

Wow....the greatest "apologetic", as Francis Schaeffer writes, is Christian community.

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another," Jesus said.

That's what God has called the church to be about: creating environments where authentic community can take place.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Help, I need somebody

The Beatles used to sing a song that had a great line in it, "help, I need somebody."

We all have times when we "need somebody" in our lives.

There's a story about a young boy selling pencils door-to-door in his neighborhood for a nickel apiece. One prospective buyer asked him what he planned to do with the money.

He said, "I'm trying to raise a million dollars to help build a new hospital."

The buyer said, "That's a big job for just one boy, isn't it?"

"It's not so hard," said the boy. "I've got a friend helping me."

I love that story!

It's amazing how much smaller even the biggest tasks become when you've got someone beside you. Too many times we tackle challenges alone and try to solve problems on our own -- and ultimately we learn that working this way makes us vulnerable to discouragement and defeat.

Whatever we do in life, we can't do it alone. It takes two, at least. We all need someone to help us get the job done.

I challenge you this week to consider a couple of things.

First. Take a minute to identify your support group. In each situation, think about their role and your role, how you complement one another, and how you can build on one another's strengths. Make it a point this week to focus on what's right in the relationship, not what's wrong.

Second. In the areas where you struggle -- personal, spiritual, career, ministry -- ask yourself, "Who can I bring in to help me make this better?" Whatever you're trying to accomplish, having a team member can get you there faster.

Solomon talked about this idea in Ecclesiastes. He talks about how futile it is to work alone. He reminds us, "Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor." (Ecclesiastes 3:9)

More importantly, Solomon reminds us that working with a team helps us bounce back more quickly from defeat.

"If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble." (Ecclesiastes 3:10)

Solomon finishes this thought by saying, "Two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 3:12)

Do you want to put your life in overdrive? Rely upon someone around you. Or two or three. See how much more quickly you move down the road of accomplishment.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Knowing what is true

How do you know the real from the "unreal"? The true from the false?

The newer version of the 20 dollar bill was introduced a few years ago to help curb counterfeits. I've read that the way the FBI trains its agents to recognize counterfeit bills is not by teaching them to look for counterfeits, but to look for the real thing.

The idea is that if an agent learns to recognize all the characteristics of a genuine bill, spotting a counterfeit will be a simpler task: If it doesn't look exactly like the real thing, it's fake.

Not a bad strategy for leadership, and not a bad strategy for applying truth to our lives. Our objective isn't to focus on what is false, our objective is to focus on what is true. The best weapon against falsehood is to proclaim the truth from the rooftops.

Many churches define themselves exclusively by what they don't want to be. Their message is defined primarily by what they're against. A more effective strategy is for a church to determine, instead, what you want to be—and move in that direction.

Moving away from what you don't want can take in a number of different directions; moving toward what you do want can take you in only one direction—the right direction.

How do you define yourself, your ministry, and your life? Are you focused on what you don't want to be, or are you focused on what God has called you to be? We need to emphasize where we're going--and proclaim the direction that God has called us to pursue.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Is Oprah America's spiritual leader?

In a recent poll 33% of Americans go to Oprah for their spiritual guidance. 33%! 33% of all Americans say they listen to Oprah before their priest, rabbi or pastor.

I believe that it a commentary not so much on Oprah but on several facts influencing our country.

1. There is a continual bowing before celebrities and what they have to offer (for good or for bad) in our country.

2. There is an obvious disconnect with organized religion.

Is Oprah the culprit? Or is it the fact that people are looking to something beyond the church for their guidance?

What do you think?

Here's an article to get you thinking from the U.S.A. Today:

By Ann Oldenburg, USA TODAY
Thu May 11, 7:28 AM ET

After two decades of searching for her authentic self - exploring New Age theories, giving away cars, trotting out fat, recommending good books and tackling countless issues from serious to frivolous - Oprah Winfrey has risen to a new level of guru.

She's no longer just a successful talk-show host worth $1.4 billion, according to Forbes' most recent estimate. Over the past year, Winfrey, 52, has emerged as a spiritual leader for the new millennium, a moral voice of authority for the nation.

With her television pulpit and the sheer power of her persona, she has encouraged and steered audiences (mostly women) in all matters, from genocide in Rwanda to suburban spouse swapping to finding the absolute best T-shirt and oatmeal cookie.

VOTE: Is Oprah a spiritual leader for the new millenium?

"She's a really hip and materialistic Mother Teresa," says Kathryn Lofton, a professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore., who has written two papers analyzing the religious aspects of Winfrey. "Oprah has emerged as a symbolic figurehead of spirituality."

On Monday, Winfrey shares one of her most ambitious events of the past year -Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball- as a special on ABC (8 p.m. ET/PT). It lets viewers in on a weekend in which she invited 25 legendary black women and other guests to her home in Montecito, Calif., for a luncheon, ball and gospel brunch in their honor.

It was something she spent a year planning and describes as one of the "greatest moments" of her life. She appears on The View on Friday to talk about the special.

"This weekend was the fulfillment of a dream for me: to honor where I've come from, to celebrate how I got here, and to claim where I'm going," Winfrey says on her website. And now, as Winfrey "lives her best life," as her TV motto says, we get to experience it with her.

Although the concept of the Rev. Oprah has been building through the years, never was it more evident than this season of her talk show, during which she conducted the public flogging of author James Frey. Feeling stung and embarrassed after endorsing his memoir about addiction, A Million Little Pieces, which turned out to include exaggerations and falsehoods, Winfrey had Frey on the show to do an about-face.

"I left the impression that the truth is not important," she said on the show. "I am deeply sorry about that because that is not what I believe."

It was a watershed Winfrey moment, showing herself as not only a talk-show host with whom you don't want to mess, but also someone who is fully aware of the power of her own image. Think back: She appeared in New Orleans to take on the government after Hurricane Katrina hit last August, and she sent a message to us all about civil rights as she stood by the casket of Coretta Scott King in February. Last week, she shed a tear with Teri Hatcher over sexual abuse memories, and she jumped on the Darfur bandwagon, encouraging viewers to support refugees there.

"She's a moral monitor, using herself as the template against which she measures the decency of a nation," Lofton says.

But while this past year showed Winfrey at new heights, it also was a year that polarized people, particularly after the Frey incident.

"A self-righteous attack dog," wrote arts and culture critic Steven Winn in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"A sanctimonious bully," said media critic Robert Thompson on the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

"She puts the cult in pop culture," wrote media critic Mark Jurkowitz in The Phoenix

Winfrey was applauded by many for her public mea culpa and for getting Frey to do the same, but her righteous demand for justice also evoked criticism.

"No one person should have that kind of power to affect markets, politics or anything else," says Debbie Schlussel, a lawyer, conservative columnist and blogger.

Deifying Oprah

Love her or loathe her, Winfrey has become proof that you can't be too rich, too thin or too committed to rising to your place in the world. With 49 million viewers each week in the USA and more in the 122 other countries to which the show is distributed, Winfrey reaches more people in a TV day than most preachers can hope to reach in a lifetime of sermons.

"One of the things that's key," says Marcia Nelson, author of The Gospel According to Oprah, "is she walks her talk. That's really, really important in today's culture. People who don't walk their talk fall from a great pedestal - scandals in the Catholic Church, televangelism scandals. If you're not doing what you say you do, woe be unto you."

In Ellen DeGeneres' stand-up comedy act several years ago, she included a joke about getting to heaven and finding that God is a black woman named Oprah.

Last fall, at the start of this 20th season of The Oprah Winfrey Show, guest Jamie Foxx said much the same thing, but he wasn't joking. "What you have is something nobody can describe," Foxx said to Winfrey on the air. Then he explained about how he told Vibe magazine: "You're going to get to heaven and everyone's waiting on God and it's going to be Oprah Winfrey."

He told her she has "different gears" than most people. "You're on the top of the world, and we really do watch and listen for everything you do and say to kind of get our lives together. It's the truth."

In a November poll conducted at, a site that looks at how religions and spirituality intersect with popular culture, 33% of 6,600 respondents said Winfrey has had "a more profound impact" on their spiritual lives than their clergypersons.

Cathleen Falsani, religion writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, recently suggested, "I wonder, has Oprah become America's pastor?"

"I am not God," Oprah said in a 1989 story by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison that ran in The New York Times Magazine titled The Importance of Being Oprah. But at the time, Winfrey called her talk show her "ministry," Harrison wrote. It remains an interview Winfrey says she hates. In a Los Angeles Times interview in December, the talk-show host said that "at every turn everything I said was challenged and misinterpreted."

She declined to be interviewed for this story, and she declined to allow USA TODAY to cover her most recent, and now rare, Live Your Best Life seminars. Tickets, priced at $185 each, sold out in minutes.

Katrina Singleton, 34, paid $450 each for tickets to the February event in Charleston, S.C., which she purchased through a ticket broker. "For Oprah, nothing is too much," she told the Associated Press. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

At the seminar, according to AP, Winfrey repeatedly spoke of her relationship with God. She even sang a chorus of I Surrender All.

"I live inside God's dream for me. I don't try to tell God what I'm supposed to do," she told the crowd. "God can dream a bigger dream for you than you can dream for yourself."

Claire Zulkey, 26, an Oprah follower who has written about Winfrey in her online blog at zulkey .com, says, "I think that if this were the equivalent of the Middle Ages and we were to fast-forward 1,200 years, scholars would definitely think that this Oprah person was a deity, if not a canonized being."

Marcia Nelson says that it's not going too far to call her a spiritual leader. "I've said to a number of people - she's today's Billy Graham."

Nelson said that concept was most apparent when Winfrey co-hosted the 2001 memorial service held 12 days after the terrorist attacks in New York. She urged the people who filled Shea Stadium that day, and all Americans, to stand strong, rousing the audience by repeating the refrain, "We shall not be moved."

One of Winfrey's most appealing subtexts is that she's anti-institutional, says Chris Altrock, minister of Highland Street Church of Christ in Memphis. He says Winfrey believes there are many paths to God, not just one. After doing his doctoral research three years ago on postmodernism religion, a religious era that began in the 1970s as Christians became deeply interested in spirituality and less interested in any established church, he came up with what he calls "The Church of Oprah," referring to the culture that has created her.

"Our culture is changing," he says, "as churches are in decline and the bulk of a new generation is growing up outside of religion." Instead, they're turning to the Church of Oprah.

"People who have no religion relate to her," Nelson says.

Oprah's own evolution

When Winfrey started in the talk-show business 20 years ago, her goal was to beat Phil Donahue, then the reigning talk-show champ. As the Jerry Springer era of tabloid talk shows came into favor, she vowed to use her show to promote good, not sleaze.

By the late '90s, Winfrey's focus was Change Your Life TV, and a New Age message was more prevalent. She preached making the message of her life - take responsibility, and greatness will follow - the substance of the show. Keep a personal journal, purchase self-indulgent gifts, take time for you - because you deserve it. The notes rang true to millions of viewers.

Debbie Ford's book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, shot up the sales charts after Ford appeared on Winfrey's show in October 2000 to talk about aspects of ourselves that we deny but which can be sources of joy and strength.

"I think at the time when she had me and Gary Zukav and a lot of the other spiritual teachers on her show, it was her own journey, and she was taking all of the world on that spiritual evolution," Ford says.

Lately, Winfrey has seemed to focus more on social issues (along with the inescapable talk-show fare of celebrity guests, home and diet makeovers, and marriage and financial troubles).

"She's fabulous. She looks great and is not suffering," Ford says, so it makes sense she isn't exploring New Age philosophies anymore. Instead, Ford says, people now "look to her to find their greatness. She is so real. That's why people are attracted to her - for different reasons. Some people will say her brilliance. Others will say authenticity. Others will say her power. They're seeing part of themselves in her."

Adds Ford, "We're all on Oprah's journey, in a sense."

Maybe not quite "all" of us.

Schlussel says Winfrey followers "are incredibly gullible, bandwagon-jumping trend-slaves." Winfrey, she says, "acts as if her show has 'evolved,' but in fact, she still has the salacious sex and deviance stories, with a psychologist in the audience to make it seem highbrow and give it the kosher seal of approval. If this is the person whose morals we are putting on a pedestal, then America's moral compass is in much need of retuning."

The fact that Winfrey has never been married, never had children and is a billionaire distances her from her audience, Schlussel says. "How could anyone like this be in touch with the average American woman?"

The roots of faith

Lofton points out that any discussion of Winfrey should not be one that criticizes her or how she came to be a spiritual icon for the history books but one that examines how it came to be that way. "Why do we all need her so much? What is wrong with us that we so need this little woman in Chicago?"

Jim Twitchell, a professor at the University of Florida who has written several books about branding and describes himself as a cultural anthropologist, says Oprah reverence makes sense.

"Religion essentially is based on high anxiety of what's going to happen to you." Winfrey pushes the idea "that you have a life out there, and it's better than the one you have now and go get it."

It's most apparent in the setting of her show, Twitchell says.

"The guest is sitting beside her, but what she's really doing is exuding this powerful message of 'You are a sinner, yes, you are, but you can also find salvation.' What I find intriguing about it is it's delivered with no religiosity at all, even though it has a powerful Baptist, democratic, enthusiastic tone.

"It has to do with this deep American faith and yearning to be reborn. To start again."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Top Ten Errors in the Da Vinci Code

I found this article on focus on the family's website...good stuff....Let's all be aware of the heresy that the book promotes and be ready to share in love with those around us who are seeking.

The Top 10 Errors Found in 'The Da Vinci Code'
compiled by Alex McFarland

1. Fallacy: The world was once dominated by goddess-based worship. Religion was originally matriarchal and later (under Judeo-Christian dominance) changed to patriarchal monotheism (male dominated). (The Da Vinci Code, p. 124)
Fact: There is no evidence that any significant religious movement had dominant female deities: They were always linked to their male counterparts, and usually in a subservient role. (See, for example, Tikva Frymer-Kensky's In the Wake of the Goddesses (New York: Ballantine Books, 1993) and Craig Hawkins' Goddess Worship, Witchcraft, and Neo-Paganism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).

2. Fallacy: The Bible has been extensively rewritten and revised. Therefore, its original meaning has been lost. The Christian Scriptures "evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions." (DVC, p. 231)
Fact: "Countless translations" is excessive hyperbole and vague generalization. Without a specific charge of what was translated, added or revised, it is impossible to respond to this point specifically. However, consider the following points:
o Translation issues for the Bible are not different from translation issues for any other document, and cause no more difficulty. The quote implies that there is some great confusion over translation that is cause for concern.
o It is true that there are issues to discuss in terms of translating the Bible from ancient Hebrew and Greek to any modern language. This is a natural function of all translation processes and in no way detracts from offering a "definitive," reasonable account of what was originally written.
o In fact, the means of transmission of the ancient texts, the voluminous quantity of manuscript copies, the science of textual criticism and the art of translation ensure that any reputable modern translation of the Bible is an accurate rendering of the original text. This subject has been covered so comprehensively and so well by so many scholars that Brown's misrepresentation of the facts is inexcusable.

3. Fallacy: "Fortunately for historians . . . some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert." (DVC, p. 234)
Fact: According to Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, Constantine was never involved in any attempt to eradicate any gospels. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 and contained no gospels, nor any reference to Jesus. They contained portions of every Old Testament book except Esther, commentaries on the Old Testament, some extrabiblical works, secular documents and business records. The Qumran community, which wrote or preserved these documents, had nothing to do with Jesus or Christianity.

4. Fallacy: "The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great." (DVC, p. 232)
Fact: Although the verdict is out as to whether Constantine was a true follower of Christ, he was not a pagan. He converted to Christianity (regardless of his motives for doing so). And he did not collate the Bible. The Old Testament was compiled even before the time of Jesus. The New Testament began to be recognized by the end of the 1st century. By the 2nd century, church leaders were inserting quotes from the four Gospels into their writings. Athanasius recorded the earliest list of New Testament books in 367 A.D.

5. Fallacy: The Bible was "hodge-podged" together over time and is not trustworthy. "The Bible is the product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book." (DVC, p. 231)
Fact: If men wanted to create a new religion, they would never choose one with a God-man as its central figure and a resurrection from the dead as its foundation. (1 Corinthians 15:14, Ephesians 2:20). Further, if men had produced Christianity, it would be man-centered, as are all other religions. In other words, man would earn his way into eternal bliss through his good deeds. Thus, man would get the glory. In stark contrast, the Bible uniformly declares that man cannot work his way to God. There must be a substitute that is acceptable to God according to His holy standard — perfect righteousness. Jesus Christ is that perfect substitute — the one and only way to God. Therefore, God gets all the glory. (Isaiah 64:6, Philippians 3:9, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 3:18)

6. Fallacy: Many "gospels" existed recounting the life of Christ, some of which were suppressed: "More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them . . . " (DVC, p. 231)
Fact: The "gospels" to which Brown refers are the Gnostic gospels. They were written from about 250-350 A.D., several hundred years after Christ lived. They were written to reinterpret the life of Christ and His teachings, based upon Gnostic philosophy. There were never as many as 80, and they were never considered for inclusion in the New Testament.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were accepted in the 1st century based upon their authorship and their use in the early Christian centers of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome. The Gnostic gospels appeared after most of the New Testament was already in use and accepted by the Church. Eusebius, the first church historian, affirms that the early church rejected these gospels as soon as they appeared.

7. Fallacy: Christianity as we know it was "invented" by people, rather than revealed by God. "At [the Council of Nicea] . . . many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon — the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of sacraments and, of course, the divinity of Jesus . . . [U]ntil that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal." (DVC, p. 233)
Fact: The Council of Nicea debated only one issue: Was Jesus coeternal with the Father? (See A History of Christianity by Kenneth Scott Latourette, pp. 152-157.) Although Jesus' disciples were fearful skeptics who initially did not clearly understand who Christ was and what He came to do, after the resurrection they willingly sacrificed their lives for proclaiming that He was indeed God in the flesh. (John 20:19-28, 31; 2 Peter 1:16-18; Philippians 2:5-11)

8. Fallacy: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. ". . . [O]ne particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the [Gnostic] gospels. Mary Magdalene. . . . More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ." (DVC, p. 244)
Fact: None of the Gnostic gospels contain any references to a marriage between Mary and Jesus. There is no support for this claim in the Scriptures or in early church traditions. In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul defended his right to have a wife (even though he was unmarried). He cites as support the other apostles, the Lord's brothers and Peter. If Christ had been married, Paul would most certainly have cited Him as conclusive support for being accompanied by a wife.

9. Fallacy: Christianity borrowed its practices and symbols from the pagan mystery religions. "And virtually all the elements of the Catholic ritual . . . were taken directly from earlier pagan mystery religions." (DVC, p. 232)
Fact: A distinction needs to be made between New Testament Christianity and what developed over time as Greek and Roman converts brought certain non-biblical elements into their worship. In particular, the Church at Rome abandoned the biblical feast days observed by the early church in favor of the feast days of the pagan they were seeking to convert. And to some degree, they adopted the vestments and rituals of the pagan Roman priests.
Most mystery religions, however, flourished long after the closing of the canon of Scripture. Therefore, it would be more proper to say that Christianity influenced mystery religions, rather than the other way around. A careful observation of the mystery religion stories reveals there is a vast difference between the events recorded in the New Testament and the mythologies of the mystery religions. The mysteries were rooted in emotionalism and fantasy. In contrast, Christianity is rooted in history and evidence. The mysteries were a combination of many religious systems, worshipping numerous deities. Christianity is rooted in the consistent revelation of one God who ordained the pure and spotless sacrifice of His Son in payment for man's sin.

10. Fallacy: The book is based on fact. "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." (DVC Page 1)
Fact: Contrary to the book's claim that early Jewish tradition involved ritualistic sex, the Old Testament carefully defined and steadfastly condemned sexual immorality — especially the pagan practice of bringing sex into public worship (Leviticus 10:10-21; Deuteronomy 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:24).
The novel contends that Da Vinci painted the Apostle John as representing Mary Magdalene. However, John's appearance reflects the way Florentine artists traditionally depicted John. (See The Truth Behind the Da Vince Code, Richard Abanes, pp. 71-72). The claims of ". . . hidden documents that detail the truth about Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and their lineage . . . " (DVC, p. 160) are based on forgeries. (See The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code, pp. 51-54.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Speaking about the Da Vinci Code

I was interviewed last Thursday by the Religious editor of the Battle Creek Enquirer concerning the sermon series I am doing on the Da Vinci Code here at First Assembly.

She asked me my motivation for doing so, and I explained to her that I speak concerning the book and film so that we as Christians will know what we believe if challenged, and also be ready to use the Da Vinci code as a springboard to sharing our faith.

The Da Vinci Code movie opens this Friday, May 19. Certainly you already knew that, if you've seen a TV or a newspaper recently. It's making quite a buzz.

The film presumably makes the same claims about Jesus that the book did, which is why it's sure to raise more controversy. As with most people who read the book, most who see the movie will probably not give a great deal of serious thought to the spiritual/religious/historical claims; they'll just enjoy the story.

A few, however, will be troubled by what Dan Brown says about Christ. Some might even become convinced he's right, even though his work is a work of fiction.

Actor Tom Hanks, who stars in the leading role, has made some interesting comments about it. One, he said that The Da Vinci Code movie could "help the church do their job." He said, "If they put up a sign saying, 'This Wednesday we are discussing the gospel,' 12 people show up. But if a sign says, 'This Wednesday we are discussing The Da Vinci Code, 800 people show up.'"

Though I'm not sure he's right about the numbers, he does have a bit of a point.

People are interested in hearing more about the film and how it compares to historical Christianity.

Hanks made another good point about the movie. He said the film was loaded with "hoeey" and "nonsense." He said, "If you are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-budget motion picture like this, you'd be making a very big mistake."

Amen, Tom. There are better, more reliable sources on which to base our faith than best-selling novels and blockbuster movies.

Let me repeat what I said above:

Many people have questions about the claims of this film, and we have a unique opportunity to talk about subjects that some in the pew might not always be eager to hear: apologetics.

I believe now is a good time to address the issues of where we got the Bible, why we believe it is reliable (and inspired); why we believe Jesus is who he said he is; and how we respond reasonably to doubts and questions about our faith.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Praying for Beth and her husband


On May 1st, I blogged concerning depression and Elijah's response. Beth responded by saying that her busband was struggling with depression. Let me respond to Beth today.

I want you to know, Beth, that we are praying for you and your husband. Being a constant, daily care-giver can be draining. I encourage you to find a support system of your own - and keep coming to church - a place where people love and care about you both!

Peter writes, that "we are to cast all of our cares and anxieties upon Him becasue He cares for us so much!" I Peter 5:7

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The song of the spirit

Music is powerful. It can instantly establish both attitude and atmosphere in any setting - for good or bad.

For this reason, music has always been a primary part of the worship of God's people, for it not only invites in the very presence of God and His kingdom rule in our lives but it also provides us with a too of establishing an atmosphere of praise.

There is power in praise and song.

I trust that we all realize that we sing on Sunday mornings for a purpose. Our praise in song shatters the power of the enemy.

Second Chronicles 20 provides us with a great lesson the power of praise. Judah is confronted by it's mortal enemies, Moab and Ammon.

The people sought God in prayer and with faith in His Word (20:1-14). Then came the word of the prophet: "Do not be afraid...for the battle is not yours, but God's - verse 15).

The victory came in a strange but powerful manner. The Levites stood and praise, "The Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high - verse 19). Then some were actually appointed to sing to the Lord and praise Him in the beauty of holiness. These went before the army, saying, "Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures (last) forever. Verse 21).

The result of this powerful praise was total victory.

Do you need victory today - sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord with song. Let your voice lift forth in a chorus of victorious praise to God!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

I taught concerning the fallacies of the Davinci Code last Sunday.

It was an interesting experience for me. I sensed that some were engaged with the foundations of our faith, others wondered what all the fuss was about, and others still couldn't have cared less.

One thing I think I am going to emphasize on May 21st. A study on the Da Vinci Code is not so much to show the THREAT that is there from the book, but the OPPORTUNITY that is there to talk about our faith and the things of Christianity to those who are seeking, howbeit through the book itself.

Here is a copy of a blog from Mark Roberts, a pastor in California....If you have time, read it and share with us what you think.

"In my last post I summarized some of the ways in which The Da Vinci Code contradicts classical, orthodox Christian belief. It's not hard to imagine how a book that denies the inspiration of the Bible, the reliability of the New Testament gospels, and the deity of Jesus Christ might be upsetting to Christians. FAQ: Why worry about "historical claims" in The Da Vinci Code since it's just a work of fiction?

"But," you might want to respond, "it's just fiction! It's a novel, for God's sake. It's going to be a fictional movie. Why get so worked up about fiction? Why refute fiction as if it were fact? Why get so worried about apparently factual elements of a fictional story?"

I can't tell you how much I wish every reader of The Da Vinci Code, and every viewer of the upcoming film, had this perspective. If everybody who was exposed to Dan Brown's story concluded, "Well, that was a great ride, but his stuff on Jesus was a lot of hooey!" then I could start blogging on something else, rather than exercising myself on this topic for the next several weeks. But, I'm sad to say, millions upon millions of readers and viewers of The Da Vinci Code will not reject its treatment of Jesus and early Christianity as wildly creative fiction. In fact, they will believe that Dan Brown has revealed the truth about Jesus. And they'll believe this passionately.

The Da Vinci Code? What, me worry?

I know because of the e-mail I have received in response to my online article Was Jesus Married? A Careful Look at the Real Evidence, and the published version of this piece that forms an appendix to my book, Jesus Revealed. I've received dozens of notes from people who not only reject my view that the evidence doesn't support the hypothesis of Jesus having been married, but also are just plain angry with me. They have found the "evidence" of The Da Vinci Code to be so persuasive, and they are so attached to the idea that Jesus is married, that my rather sober treatment of the historical evidence carries no weight whatsoever. The folks who have written to me didn't take Dan Brown's view of Jesus as clever fiction, but as hardcore fact.

They're not alone. Lest you think my blog readers are a bunch of crazies, consider the following evidence:

In a survey, 27% of respondents said that Mary Magdalene was "Jesus' wife."

Not to be outdone, one in three Canadians who read The Da Vinci Code believe "there are descendants of Jesus alive today and a secret society exists dedicated to keeping Jesus' bloodline a secret."

A more recent Canadian survey found that 17% of all Canadians and 13% of all Americans are of the opinion that “Jesus’ apparent death on the cross was faked” and that "Jesus was also married and had a family." If accurate, this means that tens of millions of North Americans believe Dan Brown's fictions to be true.

There's no denying the fact that millions of people have been influenced by The Da Vinci Code to believe things about Jesus that are contrary to orthodox Christian belief, and that are, as we shall later see, highly improbable and unsupported by the available historical evidence.

Yet you can't exactly blame the readers of The Da Vinci Code for taking many of its claims about Jesus as historically valid. In the unfolding of the story, "facts" like the marriage of Jesus and the unreliability of the biblical gospels are "revealed" as common knowledge among informed Christians. At one point the novel's historian-guru Sir Leigh Teabing notes, "The vast majority of educated Christians know the history of their faith," which includes the "fact" that Jesus was just a mortal who was elevated to deity by the Roman emperor Constantine to augment his power (p. 234). FAQ: Why do people believe that fictional elements of The Da Vinci Code are historically accurate?

Furthermore, the first page of The Da Vinci Code contains a claim about the factuality of the material in the book. It reads: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate" (p. 1). Yet it is in the description of ancient Christian documents that Dan Brown makes some of his wildest claims about the Bible and Jesus. The first page of the book suggests that he is speaking historical truth.

Curiously enough, Dan Brown seems not to have read his own first page. His own website asks Brown, "But doesn't the novel's 'fact' page claim that every single word in this novel is historical fact?" [MDR note: What a ridiculous question!], Here is Brown's answer:

If you read the "FACT" page, you will see it clearly states that the documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist. The "FACT" page makes no statement whatsoever about any of the ancient theories discussed by fictional characters. Interpreting those ideas is left to the reader.

Hmmm. Actually, his "FACT" page says that "all descriptions" of these things are true, not that they merely exist. When Teabing describes an ancient document, Dan Brown the author suggests that his description is factually true. Dan Brown the webmaster suggests only that the document exists. Will the real Dan Brown please stand up?

In fact, the real Dan Brown has made known his personal views on the purportedly historical background to his novel. And there's little doubt that he believes the stuff Leigh Teabing feeds to Sophie Neveu is historical fact. For example, Brown's website asks him, "The topic of this novel might be considered controversial. Do you fear repercussions?" Brown answers: FAQ: Does Dan Brown himself believe that his fictionalized "history" of Jesus and early Christianity is true?

No. As I mentioned earlier, the secret I reveal is one that has been whispered for centuries. It is not my own. Admittedly, this may be the first time the secret has been unveiled within the format of a popular thriller, but the information is anything but new.

Notice, Dan Brown "reveals" a secret that is really true, and that has been known for centuries, but not widely.

In an interview with, Brown revealed more of his personal beliefs regarding Jesus and early Christianity. Question: Is this book anti-Christian? Answer:

No. This book is not anti-anything. It's a novel. I wrote this story in an effort to explore certain aspects of Christian history that interest me. The vast majority of devout Christians understand this fact and consider The Da Vinci Code an entertaining story that promotes spiritual discussion and debate.

Note: Brown wrote "to explore certain aspects of Christian history." Question: What do you think of clerical scholars attempting to "disprove" The Da Vinci Code? [MDR note: It's not just clerical scholars, but academic scholars as well.] Answer:

The dialogue is wonderful. These authors and I obviously disagree, but the debate that is being generated is a positive powerful force.

Note: Brown could have said. These folks are crazy. My novel is just a novel. What's their problem? Instead he said, "These authors and I obviously disagree." Upon what do they disagree? On the historical facts. Brown really believes the stuff he puts into the mouth of Leigh Teabing.

In an interview in a National Geographic documentary on The Da Vinci Code, Brown added:

I began as a sceptic. As I started researching Da Vinci Code I really thought I would disprove a lot of this theory about Mary Magdalene and holy blood and all of that. I became a believer.

So, the reader who takes Teabing's revelations as historical fact, and who reads the "FACT" page as indicating that the novel is based on supposedly solid historical data, is not naïve and mistaken. In fact, this reader is tracking perfectly with Brown, who believes his novel reveals a secret about Jesus that is historically true, and a perspective on early Christianity that tells the real story.

Given the influence of The Da Vinci Code, and the tendency for millions of readers to believe the Dan Brown/Leigh Teabing view of Jesus and early Christian history, it's necessary to deal with part of The Da Vinci Code as if it were a work of non-fiction. The "What, me worry?" approach isn't possible for those of us who care about the truth, not to mention the truth about Jesus, His nature and mission."

Good stuff.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Microscopic lives

One person termed life a century ago as a "survival of the fittest." That phrase has always brought forth different images to me.

Like we are all mice running over each other, trying to get to the cheese. Or a group of dogs all trying to get the one bone. Well, you get the picture.

Life has a way of pushing us into focusing only on the temporary, what is happening now, the problems and trials that we face each day.

It doesn't leave a lot of time to focus on the "big picture", time in which we figure out just what in the world the whole thing is all about.

We are here - and then we are gone. Whoosh.

Are we only here to get through this day?

Is our existence allowed to show that we can survive, while pushing down those around us who are weak?

As the Apostle Paul would say, "God forbid."

Life is a gift. A gift from God to be cherished each and every day. Every moment, whether good or bad, is a time to live, really live, in our relationship with God and in our relationships with each other.

There is purpose.

There is direction.

What is my ultimate purpose?

I would suggest to you that my ultimate purpose is to please God - and then everything else will fall into place.

I don't have to "survive" as long as I know that I am pleasing God.

I don't have to walk through life, living a microscopic life, but can enjoy the day knowing that God has me here for a purpose.

Just some random thoughts.....

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mother's Day

Mother's day is this Sunday, May 14th.

Mother's have their day. Fathers have their day. Pickles, believe it or not, have their week. That's right, there is an officially recognized international week of the pickle. What's more, it last longer than a week: it takes two full weekends. It kinda makes you feel that whatever you do for mom this year, it pales in comparison to what has been done for the pickle.

The first Mother's Day was held on May 10, 1908 at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton West Virginia. The purpose of the day was stated as:

1. To honor our mothers.

2. To bring families together.

3. To make us better children.

To brighten the lives of good mothers.

Those are still four very good purposes, aren't they?

One thing I've learned in life - you can fool your mom. The great philosopher Homer Simpson once said: "you couldn't fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine."

And I like the quote from Robert Frost, "A mother takes twenty years to make a man of her boy, and another woman makes a fool of him in twenty minutes."

Let's all take some time this week and remember our moms.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

God is closer than you think

Sometimes it seems as if God is a million miles away. Yet he is there, many times closer than we think.

In his book, God Is Closer Than You Think, John Ortberg includes this story about the power of prayer. He writes:

"When my friend Kim was a young girl, her dad pulled the car off the road one day to help a woman change a flat tire. While he was lying under her car, another vehicle accidentally swerved to the shoulder, and in the collision the car was shoved onto his chest. His right thumb was torn off at the joint, five of his ribs were broken, and his left lung was pierced and began filling with blood.

His wife, who is barely five-feet-tall, placed her hands on the bumper of the car and prayed, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ," and lifted the car off his chest so he could be dragged out. (Some weeks later she found out that she broke a vertebra in the effort).

Kim's father was in a state of shock as he was taken to the hospital. Doctors prepared him for emergency surgery. "His thumb won't do him any good if he's dead," one of them said. His survival was iffy.

Suddenly, spontaneously, the man's skin changed from ashen to pink. He experienced a miraculous healing. He invited a surprised surgical team to join him in singing "Fairest Lord Jesus." They did not even bother to hook him up to oxygen.

He did not find out until later that this was the precise moment his father-in-law, who was a pastor, had his congregation start to pray for him.

Sometimes these stories come from not-very-credible sources such as publications sold in grocery checkout lines that also carry news about extraterrestrial creatures secretly playing third base for the Boston Red Sox. In this case, however, the subject was James Loder, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.

His life was not only saved, but changed. Until then, although he taught at a seminary, God had been mostly an abstract idea to him. Now Jesus became a living Presence. Kim writes that her father's heart grew so tender that he became known at Princeton as "the weeping professor." He began to live from one moment to the next in a God-bathed, God-soaked, God-intoxicated world.

My prayer today is that Jesus be a living presence in my life. How about you!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Prove it!

Have you ever heard someone say, "prove it!"

I have. Sometimes we say that to God. "prove it!"

What I find is that God is gracious enough with us to many times do just that. He "proves" his power and his very existence.

I'm thankful that we have a God who cares enough to be patient with us!

There is a great story in 1 Kings 18 where the prophet Elijah confronts King Ahab and the 450 prophets of Baal (and the 400 propehts of the Asherah - verses 19,20)

850 false prophets against Elijah...and at his own request.

But Elijah knew that he had God on his side.

So Elijah sets up a test (verses 22-25).

Elijah wins - the false prophets lose (verses 26-29)

The result? Verse 38 tells us, "Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench."

Four quick lessons:

1. When we are in the will of God, we can walk in boldness.

Even in the most threatening of circumstances, if you are in the will of God, you don't need to be intimidated by anybody or anything.

2. Divided allegiance is as wrong as open idolatry.

When we are outnumbered it's easy to compromise (by non-Christians at work, etc.). But if we try to straddle a religious fence, as the Isrealties did, we court the danger of falling off into idolatry.

3. Our most effective tool is prayer.

Elijah's prayer is simple but yet power. The first thing he did was pray. Prayer must be our first recourse not our last.

4. Never underestimate the power of one person who is totally dedicated to God!

May God help us to be totally dedicated to Him this day.

So, "prove it" God. And God responds, "just rely on me, I'll take care of it this day."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Creative discussion

We have Pastor Jay Alford with us this week at our church as an advisor for some constitutional changes that are being proposed. Retired, filled with a wealth of knowledge and experince, he's a valuable resource for any pastor or minister.

He told me last night - to be successful in ministry: Know God, Know the Word, and know people.

Really, that's true for any occupation. To be successful in any arena depends upon one's ability to relate and have strong, bonding relationships.

Part of good, bonding relationships is the ability to dialogue.

Read the article below. Trust it helps.

levels of dialogue—social, argumentative, and pragmatic

One of the goals in fostering learning communities (this can be true of blog spaces as well) is to move participants past the introductions, through the “wallowing in the shallows”, beyond argumentation, to meaningful reasoned discourse about concepts, ideas, and new levels of synergistic learning.

According to experts, there are three general forms of dialogue: social dialogue; argumentative dialogue, and pragmatic dialogue.*

Social dialogue—is simple chitchat—news like someone just signing papers on their first home or having a new grandchild. This is important for people to know and be known and for a greater perspective and appreciation of a person’s history and the course of their life.

Argumentative dialogue—is the attempt to use our rhetorical power to score points in our own eyes while at the same time impressing others regarding our positions on subjects, our knowledge, and particularly our deeply felt biases and prejudices. The goal is to strongly advocate for a particular view with the use of impassioned presentation employing supportive evidence in an effort to change the listener’s or reader’s minds on any given subject. Participants involved in argumentative dialogue take and defend positions with a combative, “win-lose” mindset.

Pragmatic dialogue—or reasoned discourse on the other hand is a process that challenges participants to move beyond debate to honor multiple perspectives by sorting through tensions and seeking deeper common meaning and outcomes. The focus is “win-win” and the goal is not to persuade, but rather to inquire and to use the dialogue to inform participants in both a collective and individual way so that they exchange varied thoughts, ideas, and approaches to whatever subject matter they’re considering.

The benefit of pragmatic, reasoned discourse is synergy—the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.

“So Paul reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17).

Good stuff

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dealing with depression

Have you ever been depressed? I mean really depressed? We've all been discouraged, but depression is a feeling of discouragement that seems to hang in there, leaving us without any emotional strength to go throughout the day.

Here's what I want you to know: godly people get depressed.

Look at the case of Elijah: Elijah had just dealt with the prophets of Baal and won the battle so to speak. Now a woman by the name of Jezebel frightens him to the extent that he runs away for his life.

Read the story with me:

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
3 Elijah was afraida and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
4 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him
So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother good-by,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.

Notice the ways that Elijah overcame depression:

1. He got some sleep and ate right.

The physical definitely affects our emotional state. Notice in verses 5 and 6 that Elijah went to sleep under a juniper tree; and an angel touched him and said, get up and eat.

And he ate and drank and then slept again.

My dad has told me many times to "sleep on" a certain situation. In other words, get a good nights sleep and than think about it the next day. Many times our minds are clearer and sharper and we find it easier to focus on the reality of the situation.

2. He let the Holy Spirit minister to him.

In verse 9, God come to him and says, "what are you doing here, Elijah?" And thus begins a conversation that leads Elijah to realize that he was not alone, there were others struggling with the same difficulty, that God did care about him and that God would see him through.

3. He relied on a close personal friend.

It's always great to have a support group when we are fighting depression. Elijah's kindred spirit was Elisha. They were of one accord. Working together and ministering together, Elijah vented his feelings with his friend and God helped him.

May our prayer be, "Come Holy Spirit, we need thee!"