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By Andy Butcher
A man who sparked international headlines after offering $375,000 to learn the truth about life after death has received his answer--for free--and a reprieve.
Clayton Goward, 79, was suffering from colon cancer when he took out a newspaper advertisement last year promising his estate to anyone who could satisfactorily answer his tough questions about God. His unusual appeal made the news, drew more than 50,000 letters from around the world and several marriage proposals.
But now Goward is at peace with God--and cancer-free--after an unlikely encounter with Brad Smith from Youngstown, Ohio.
The Assemblies of God minister first learned about Goward's search when Smith's sister called. She had been weeping and praying for Goward every night for a month and believed God had told her that Smith should go and tell him about the gospel.
Smith thought the whole thing sounded a bit strange but believed he should drop Goward a line. He decided to forgo listing his credentials "and just wrote a short note saying the reason I should come was that I knew God's grace and mercy because I had walked away from Him for 20 years, and when I was ready, He was right there where I had left Him."
Goward picked Smith's letter from the mountain of mail as one of 10 correspondents to be invited to a panel discussion. But Smith declined the offer, saying he would be happy to talk if the event failed to answer Goward's questions. "I told him what he needed was heart knowledge, not head knowledge."
The debate didn't help Goward, who called Smith again. "I told him I didn't want his money, and I had something to give him." Miraculously a consulting appointment came up for the very day the pair had planned to meet in Minneapolis, near Goward's home in Pine City, Minn., enabling Smith to make the trip.
He prepared biblical answers to Goward's questions in advance, but the night before the meeting he had a dream in which God told him not to argue doctrine but to simply demonstrate His love. When they met the next day, Goward looked just as Smith had seen him in his dream, he said.
During their time together, Smith told Goward--who had made a Christian commitment as a teen-ager but deserted his faith--about his own years of backsliding. At Goward's request he helped him select a tombstone for his grave. The pair also spent time with Goward's brother, who is a Christian.
Smith told Goward about the dream in which God showed him events in the older man's life that had hurt him. "I said that God had not forsaken him, and that the Lord wanted to know if he would lower the walls he had put up and let Him in." The meeting ended in a tearful prayer time in which Goward recommitted his life to Christ.
"It was amazing," said Smith, who works with Metro Heart Reach and travels as a business consultant. "It's a testimony to God's love and what He can do to reach someone." Smith keeps in contact with Goward, who told him recently that his latest medical exam could find no trace of the cancer.
"God just healed him when we were praying, it appears," Smith said. "I never prayed for healing, but God just took it from his body. He told me, 'I think I have another 20 years to live.'"
Although overall church growth in the United States has been relatively small in the last decade, researchers have found surprising increases in Christian commitment in two segments of the population: Asian Americans and the affluent.
While there are around 10 million more adult believers today than there were in 1991, that rise is largely the result of general population growth, with the actual conversion rate staying about the same.
But there has been an "astounding" more-than-fourfold increase in the likelihood of Asian Americans coming to faith in Christ, according to the Barna Research Group (BRG). In 1991, only 5 percent had made a personal commitment to Christ--compared to 27 percent now. In contrast, the conversion rate among Hispanics has remained the same, 23 percent.
Ten years ago just 13 percent of adults from households earning $60,000 or more were born again. Today that proportion is 25 percent, reflecting a 92 percent increase during the 1990s.
A disheartening discovery was that despite a decade of ministry activity focusing on men, there is "little evidence of significant spiritual change among them." In 1991, 32 percent of men had accepted Christ as their Savior. Ten years later that figure had crept up to just 36 percent.
The percentage of born-again adults age 50 or older rose from 31 percent to 41 percent, while adults ages 18 through 29 dipped two points to 26 percent. Although the fall was "statistically insignificant," it was a trend "at odds with the fact that people in other age brackets are all more likely to accept Christ as their Savior than was true in 1991."
By Karl Mueller
Halloween has many Christians spooked. Some are anxious about reports of children's candy being spiked with razor blades and drugs. Others are concerned about the focus on evil spirits and the occult.
Like a growing number of churches, we view Halloween as another opportunity to build a bridge to the community. It's one of the calendar dates--along with the likes of Valentine's Day--we use for events that we call "Matthew Parties." This comes from Luke's Gospel account of Matthew's holding a banquet for his friends so that they might meet Jesus and His disciples.
Matthew was convinced that an encounter with the Messiah would change his unbelieving friends' lives, just as his had been. And he decided that a nonreligious, nonthreatening environment would be best.
We do the same. Our Fall Festival is held on our church grounds and parking lot. It features carnival rides, a stage show, food and crafts to buy, and lots of family activities--all in a safe and fun environment. Through the years non-Christians have discovered that Christians can be fun people to hang out with.
For many the event has been their first--but not their last--contact with the church. Some have come to worship services to find out more and have ended up committing their lives to Christ and becoming active members.
Through the years we have found that there are four steps in building an effective bridge to the community:
1. Know where you want it to go. Since some 80 percent of people become Christians through the influence of a friend or relative, we focus on developing a mind-set of relational evangelism in our members. We encourage them to make friends in their workplaces, schools and neighborhoods.
At each worship service there is a reminder to bring a friend. Our members know that special events are not just for fun and fellowship--though that is great--but are opportunities to bring unchurched people closer to Christ.
2. Put it in the right place. We typically go for neutral locations for our events because some people are scared to set foot inside a church for whatever reason. In addition to hotels, community centers and theaters can be excellent venues for "Matthew Parties."
3. Build it well. Quality is important. We work hard to develop programs and events that members can be proud of and feel good about inviting their friends to without either group feeling embarrassed.
4. Pay the price. A sturdy bridge costs more than one made out of scrap materials. Our Fall Festival, like our other events, requires an investment of time, people and resources. But we have found that by putting all three together we have been able to build bridges that people can cross to Christ.
Karl Mueller is a graduate of the University of Alberta and Fuller Theological Seminary, with 20 years leadership experience in missions, Bible colleges and churches. He is currently associate minister of adult ministries at Word of Grace Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona.
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Veteran evangelist T.L. Osborn is the recipient of the first annual Frontline Pioneer Award from Global Advance (GA), given in recognition of "a lifetime of outstanding service to Christ and the Great Commission."
In presenting the award, GA president David Shibley said he believed that Osborn had preached the gospel face-to-face to more people than any other person in the 20th century. Through six decades, Osborn has staged crusades in 70 countries, and is credited with having played a major role in helping spark the Pentecostal church growth occurring in Latin America, East Africa and parts of Asia.
Most Americans (84 percent) believe in miracles, and almost half (48 percent) say they have personally experienced or witnessed one, according to a Newsweek report. Seventy-nine percent believe the miracles described in the Bible actually happened. Sixty-seven percent have prayed for a miracle for themselves or a loved one.
The call to ministry is falling on older ears. Seminaries are reporting a graying of their student body that has mixed blessings for church life.
Forty-five percent of almost 30,000 seminary students last year were 35 or older, the Association of Theological Schools reported--up from 38 percent in 1991. Part of the age shift is due to the growing number of women attending seminary, many later in life. They make up half the seminary students 31 and older.
One bonus of the older students is that these new pastors and priests bring more life experience and maturity to their ministry, Auburn Theological Seminary president Barbara Wheeler told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But the downside includes a lack of leadership that connects with younger adults.
"Our church is graying rapidly," said Mike Kinman, a 31-year-old Episcopal priest in Missouri who helped found Gathering the Next Generation, a network for priests in his age group. "We can't just be a church that's great for people older than 50."
By Andy Butcher
Like many other churches across the country, when members of Triangle Vineyard Christian Fellowship (TVCF) in Raleigh, N.C., got serious about evangelism, they decided to open a coffeehouse. But their venture stands apart from most others in the "Christian Starbucks" boom that mixes mocha and ministry.
The congregation decided to forgo building a church home for themselves and put their money instead into a $500,000 outreach center. Then they raised around $250,000 to convert a former restaurant and nightclub into The Vineyard Café, which opens its doors six days a week. Meanwhile TVCF continues to meet in a local middle school.
"We decided that we wanted to put our money where our mouth was," said pastor Joe Sarver. "We had been talking for a number of years about becoming more evangelistic. We decided to put our money first into ministry and start ministering to people. We were afraid that [if we got involved with a church building], all our energies would be dissipated."
Church members prayed that the property--which had been plagued by crime and was a known hangout for drinkers--would earn a reputation as a place of healing. They were astonished to see a remarkable answer within weeks of opening.
When Tere Woodall visited the café by chance in February, she experienced a dramatic encounter with God that ended more than 30 years of heartache. Her family had been plagued by suicide since her father hanged himself in the building--which he constructed for the family business--when she was 11 years old.
Woodall's mother took her own life 15 years later, and there was another suicide and attempted suicide in the family. Despite having prayed about it since becoming a Christian, Woodall--youth pastor at a church in Angier, N.C.--still felt a spiritual bondage over her family.
Surprised to find the building had been converted into a Christian café, Woodall sat down at one of the tables. "The tears just started to come, and I started feeling something so different, a peace. God spoke to me, telling me that the battle had been won and the place had been reclaimed for Him."
Woodall later telephoned Sarver to tell her story, and she spoke at a TVCF meeting. Woodall's testimony "moved everyone to tears," Sarver said. "We had been praying that God would make the café a place where we reversed the curse of everything that had happened."
Tapes and printed copies of Woodall's testimony are available at the café, with other Christian literature, but the evangelism approach is low-key. "We would be disappointed if all we did was sell cappuccinos, but it's not an evangelistic service. We don't have people coming forward to receive Christ," Sarver said.
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