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R-Rated Preaching

QUOTE: "At a time when American young people are hit in the face with graphic sexuality in every facet of our culture, the church should be a safe haven where the sacredness and privacy of the act of marriage is respected by pastors. ... For generations, Christian pastors have managed to convey the Scripture's teachings on fornication, adultery and the beauty of sexuality within marriage without sullying and cheapening it. Mark Driscoll is a sad product of our times. While waving his orthodox doctrinal credentials, he has simultaneously embraced the spirit of the age when it comes to his treatment of sex. In the process, he is pornifying the church and only adding to the moral squalor of our culture." --Ingrid Schlueter, producer and host of Crosstalk Radio Talk Show, criticizing Seattle's Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll for his frequent and often explicit way of addressing the topic of sex from the pulpit [bpnews.com, 2/11/09] read more

Returning to the Landmines

For more than 50 years, Christians in North Korea have lived under the constant threat of death for their belief in Jesus Christ. Yet despite ongoing poverty, famine and persecution, the underground church in North Korea continues to not only exist, but also increase. Now a new movement is growing among these Communist-ruled believers, according to a ministry leader that trains North Korean exiles to return to their homeland as missionaries.

"Many Americans have heard about the tens of thousands who are active in the underground North Korean church, but an equally amazing trend is the growing number of North Korean exiles who are eager to return to China and North Korea to reach their countrymen," says H.S. Foley, chief executive officer of Seoul USA.

Though based in Colorado Springs, Colo., Seoul USA takes in North Korean exiles in Seoul, South Korea, and trains them for a year to take the gospel to fellow North Koreans in North Korea, China or various other countries. The ministry recently launched this equipping program under a new initiative called Underground University.

Said Foley: "The fact that North Koreans are eager to risk their lives by returning to North Korea to spread the Christian message makes us want to equip them with the comprehensive training they'll need to survive." [christiannewswire.com, 2/12/09] read more

Thanks for the God Nod, Mr. Atheist

While the ongoing “battle of the billboards“ continues across the Pond between an atheist group and Christians, a university-based ministry is taking another approach to telling the truth about God.

In January, the British Humanist Association (BHA) launched a marketing campaign that plastered more than 800 buses in London with an ad reading: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Response from various Christian organizations and believers has ranged from countering billboard ads to one bus operator refusing to drive his “no God”-labeled bus.

Now Christian Unions (CU), a collegiate ministry working on campuses throughout the United Kingdom, is using the highly publicized showdown to further discussions among young adults about God. Over the next two months, student leaders within the ministry will distribute more than 400,000 free copies of a special student edition of Mark’s Gospel.

“Richard Dawkins [the prominent atheist who endorsed the BHA campaign] is to be thanked for once again, raising the profile of God,” said CU communications manager Pod Bhogal. “His book The God Delusion was a brilliant platform for CUs to host events where the claims about God and Jesus Christ could be openly discussed, and through that, people have become Christians. Now his bus adverts clearly proclaim that atheists cannot be sure. This is evidently not a good basis to stop worrying! … Apathy is the greatest spiritual danger in our land, whereas Dawkins’ militant atheism gets everybody thinking and talking. We are grateful to him for keeping God on the nation’s agenda.”

As a follow-up to the Gospel distribution, CU is organizing outreach events such as lunchtime public forums, debates, lectures, question-and-answer sessions and café meetings. [christianpost.com, 2/5/09]

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‘Much of Christianity Does Not Work’

QUOTE:Relevancy means speaking to the true battles people are facing in terms of depression, exhaustion, joblessness, inability to connect with God, etc. I do not see most pastors at all in touch with how the majority of their listeners have no idea how to hear from God. This should be a top priority. Relevancy is understanding what your typical parishioner goes through; everything from killer rush hours to family breakdowns. … Part of the problem is that pastors do not want to admit that much of Christianity does not work. So many of the promises in Scripture simply don’t come true, and people cannot wrap their minds around that contradiction. Now, there are ways around this, but it’s the rare pastor who gets it that people are struggling with what their lives are like and what the Bible stays—and the wide gulf in between. Speaking to those hard spots would be so helpful. … After a while people think they must be awful Christians because the system is not working for them, so they drop out out of sheer discouragement. That does not need to happen, yet this goes on all the time. Folks hate being part of something in which all they do is fail.” —Quitting Church author Julia Duin, who was part of the Jesus movement and charismatic renewal movement, on why most American churches have failed in their attempts to be “relevant” and, consequently, why so many Americans have stopped going to church [beliefnet.com, 2/3/09]

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Habitat for Humanity Founder Finds Eternal Home

The Christian founder of a worldwide house-building ministry, which has erected nearly 200,000 homes in 100 countries since 1976, died last Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 74.

Family and friends referred to Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, as a “true servant leader” with a “genuine heart” that was dedicated to eliminating poverty housing worldwide.

We are truly overwhelmed with the love and support from family, friends and supporters of my father’s work from all over the country and the world,” Fuller’s son, Chris, said on behalf of the Fuller family. “Despite the loss of a beloved husband, father and grandfather, our spirits are high. We know that Dad is in heaven now, and we will celebrate his life’s accomplishments and continue to carry out his vision.”

Fuller expanded his missionaryvision for helping the poor build houses four years ago, when he opened the Fuller Center for Housing in Americus, Ga. He dedicated the Fuller Center as “a Christ-centered, faith-driven organization witnessing the love of God by providing opportunities for families to have a simple, decent place to live.”

Fuller’s many decades of philanthropy inspired a wide range of fans and supporters worldwide, including past U.S. presidents. On Tuesday, former President Jimmy Carter issued a statement in which he called Fuller “one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known,” according to a statement received by the Fuller Center. “He used his remarkable gifts as an entrepreneur for the benefit of millions of needy people around the world by providing them with decent housing,” Carter said. “As the founder of Habitat for Humanity and later the Fuller Center, he was an inspiration to me, other members of our family and an untold number of volunteers who worked side-by-side under his leadership.”

In the past, former President Bill Clinton said he didn’t think it was an exaggeration to say: “Millard Fuller has literally revolutionized the concept of philanthropy.”

Fuller is survived by his wife of 50 years, Linda Caldwell Fuller, their four children: Chris, Kim, Faith and Georgia, and nine grandchildren. [charismamag.com, 2/4/09]

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From Small to Smaller to … Gone

According to the Fund for Theological Education, fewer than half of all rural churches have a full-time, seminary-trained pastor. And for the first time ever, the majority of seminary graduates aren’t from rural areas. When the higher cost of attracting new pastors is factored in (those with seminary degrees now average a starting salary of $35,000), this means most rural churches now face a triform, cyclical dilemma: 1) Fewer pastors are willing to lead a rural church because 2) these dwindling (and aging) congregations can’t afford to pay high enough salaries to at least cover their seminary debt—which 3) ultimately leads to fewer new leaders and pastors emerging from such communities.

In recent years, dozens of small-town churches have responded to the problem by “sharing” a pastor with other congregations. Some ministers travel hundreds of miles in a weekend to serve as many as five churches (which have even crossed denominational lines). Yet many congregations—particularly in the Midwest, where only one in five has a full-time pastor with a seminary degree—have been forced to close.

“It’s a religious crisis, for sure,” said Daniel Wolpert, a 30-something seminary graduate who serves as pastor of First Presbyterian in Crookston, Minn. “And to the extent that these churches are anchoring institutions, it’s a crisis of community.” [time.com, 1/29/09]

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What Colgate and Charmin Have to Do With Your Denomination

 QUOTE: “Those distinctions, which seemed so important as the various Protestant churches were identifying and evolving ... are really not that important to the average churchgoer in the United States.” —Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, reacting to a recent study showing Americans are more loyal to the brands of their toothpaste or toilet paper than to their church denomination. The Ellison Research survey found that only 16 percent of all Protestants would consider only one denomination (compared to 22 and 19 percent who would do the same with toothpaste and toilet paper). Last year, a similar study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that 44 percent of all Americans had switched from one denomination to another. “It has become unfashionable to claim to be denominationally loyal,” commented Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University School of Theology. “It has become ... kind of the way people expect to talk about their religiosity, to say that they wouldn’t put denomination above some other important criteria. … You can have very, very theologically conservative Presbyterian churches and very, very liberal Presbyterian churches, so people have sort of also gotten into their heads that the label on the door doesn’t tell them what they need to know.” [Religion News Service, 2/3/09] read more

Suspended by Prayer

As if Britain needed any more proof of its complete secularization, a nurse working in North Somerset, England, has been suspended for simply offering to pray for a patient. A registered nurse for more than 25 years, Caroline Petrie was caring for an elderly woman at the woman’s home when Petrie asked if she would like her to pray for her. The woman politely declined but complained to Petrie’s authorities the following day, which prompted an initial warning. The day after, however, Petrie was informed that she would not be allowed to work until the incident was fully investigated.

“We always take any concerns raised by our patients most seriously and conscientiously investigate any matter of this nature brought to our attention,” a spokesman for North Somerset Primary Care Trust said. “We are always keen to be respectful of our patients’ views and sensitivity as well as those of our staff.”

According to multiple sources, the elderly woman “said that she wasn’t offended but was concerned that someone else might be.” Petrie, who attends a Baptist church with her husband and two children, mentioned that she often offers to pray for her patients, many of whom take up her offer. “My concern is for the person as a whole, not just their health.”

Last October the 45-year-old nurse was reprimanded for an incident in which she gave a patient a homemade “prayer card.” Although the elderly man had happily accepted the item, his caregiver reported Petrie, which prompted her boss at the time to remind her, “Your NMC [Nursing Midwifery Council] code states that ‘you must demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity’ and ‘you must not use your professional status to promote causes that are not related to health.’”

Following her suspension, Petrie sought the help of the Christian Legal Centre, an organization of legal representative organization seeking to promote religious freedom and, in particular, protect Christians. She will learn later this week whether she’ll lose her job or be allowed to resume duties. [telegraph.co.uk, 2/1/09; bbc.co.uk, 2/1/09]

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Mass Miracles in Nigeria

More than 800,000 people made decisions for Christ during crusades evangelist Reinhard Bonnke hosted last week in Nigeria’s Delta State. Bonnke, founder of Florida-based Christ for All Nations (CFAN), said 85,000 people gathered the first night of the crusade, held in Isokoland Jan. 21-26. CFAN reported that on the final meeting some 425,000 people attended. Those who accepted Christ were directed to a local church for follow up.

“The original gospel comes with signs and wonders, and what we witnessed last week was absolutely glorious. Miracles upon miracles,” Bonnke said in a ministry statement. “Without the miraculous the gospel would be an empty shell. But Jesus Christ is the same today. Miracles identify Him.”

Bonnke said there were numerous reports of the blind receiving sight and the lame walking. One man reported that he had been healed of HIV/AIDS. “One pastor had been shot in the arm by robbers and the arm had died,” said Bonnke, who led the meetings with evangelist David Kolenda. “He had spent a small fortune on doctors trying to save the arm, but they were unable to restore it and so he was scheduled to have it amputated. ... After the prayer, he received feeling in his hand again and use of two of his fingers, and his hand was still improving in real time as he gave his testimony.”

In another meeting, Bonnke said a 35-year-old man who had been unable to speak or hear since birth suddenly regained his hearing and was able to pronounce words after receiving prayer. Another man, who was born lame and at age 32 had been crawling from place to place his entire life, walked for the first time. On yet another night, a woman who had been unable to walk properly because of an accident leaped on the platform.

“We ought to have a blazing neon sign in every church with the words: ‘This Same Jesus,’” Bonnke said. “The Jesus we point to is the Jesus of saving grace, miracle power and healing mercy. What He was in the past He still is today. What He did in days gone by He still does in our day. When we preach Jesus as He is, He reveals Himself in confirmation of what is said.”

Along with the evangelistic meetings, CFAN hosted a Fire Conference where indigenous church leaders were taught about the power of the Holy Spirit and evangelism. Bonnke said “tens of thousands” of people were baptized in the Holy Spirit during the training.

“Thousands upon thousands of wonderful Christians were soaking up the Word of God,” Bonnke said. “Our mission is power, not routine. Our role is that of power men, laying the power lines into powerless lives. Then Jesus does the rest.”

A native of Germany, Bonnke has been leading evangelistic crusades throughout Africa for more than 30 years, at times drawing more than a million people to one event. In 2000, he began a campaign to see 100 million come to Christ in that decade. So far, CFAN has recorded more than 44 million decisions for Christ.

CFAN’s next crusade will be held in Mubi, Nigeria, in February. [charismamag.com, 1/30/09]

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Right When It Hurts

QUOTE: “I have two principles that guide my decisions as a father, a husband and a pastor. … Principle One: Do the right thing, for the right reason, even at my own hurt. Principle Two: Say what you mean and mean what you say. These two principles were put to the test this past week as I navigated the media frenzy surrounding the new allegations involving our church. I have told several close friends this week that it is really hurtful to be criticized so strongly for simply doing the right thing. I actually believe it is easier to accept criticism after doing something wrong. If that were the case, I would stand before my family, my church and the media and simply accept the responsibility and the consequences. But when no wrong act has been committed, it hurts to be misunderstood or questioned. … When my integrity is questioned, I try not to be defensive but I also want truth. In the end, I know God sees my heart and ultimately He is my judge. I trust my reputation into His hands and believe that He will ultimately defend me. … These two principles are big leadership ideas that I hope are adopted by everyone in a position of influence or authority. It is a sacred responsibility to lead people and I consider it an honor to be called pastor. —New Life Church senior pastor Brady Boyd, blogging after a week in which he and his church’s leadership were criticized for concealing certain details involved in the Ted Haggard scandal [newlifeblogs.com, 1/30/09]

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