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Ministry That Lasts

QUOTE: “Today, our culture idolizes entertainment, sports, business success, political power and prosperity. While these have their place, Jesus did not die for any of these things. He died for the people that you care for, feed and lead. Nothing matters more than the church. We forget that the reason God created the entire universe is because He wanted a family, and that family is the only thing that will last forever with Him. Everything else on this planet is temporary, no matter how much attention it gets. The upcoming U.S. presidential inauguration on Tuesday has received so much attention, and regardless of how each of us voted, we all can celebrate the historic installation of our first African-American president. … But, in God’s eyes, and in the perspective of His eternal purposes, what you are doing will actually last longer than what any political leader will do. Your ministry will impact eternity. Think about that! While no nation lasts forever, God’s family will. Remember, prominence and significance are not synonymous.” —Rick Warren [, 1/17/09]

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Spiritual vs. Religious

Want to live longer and happier? According to two Canadian studies, it’s a matter of being “spiritual” and “religious”—although not necessarily both.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba recently found that attending worship services can lower the potential for suicide. Results from a study of 37,000 Canadian adults revealed that those who did not attend church or go to a synagogue were twice as likely to have attempted suicide. Those who simply considered themselves “spiritual,” however, were just as likely to have tried.

Oddly enough, a separate study of children showed a converse outcome for those considered either “religious” or “spiritual.” In this report, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that children ages 8 to 12 who are more spiritual tend to be happier, while kids who are simply religious aren’t. Led by Mark Holder, the study defined being spiritual as relying on an inner belief system for strength and comfort, and being religious included such things as attending church and participating in rituals.

“Our finding of a strong relation between happiness and spirituality in children, but not between happiness and frequency of religious practice, suggests that spirituality and religious practice can be empirically separated,” Holder said. “It is somewhat surprising that the relation between happiness and spirituality reported in the present study with children was stronger than that typically reported in adults.” [, 1/16/09;, 1/15/09] read more

Are We Approaching This?

QUOTE: “You can’t express views that were common currency 30 or 40 years ago. Arguably, the parameters of what you might call ‘right thinking’ are probably closing. Sadly, along with that has come the fact that it’s almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God. … It’s difficult if you talk about religious faith in our political system. If you are in the American political system or others, then you can talk about religious faith and people say ‘Yes, that’s fair enough,’ and it is something they respond to quite naturally. You talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you’re a nutter.” —BBC Radio personality Jeremy Vine, on how Christians are increasingly becoming social pariahs in Britain. The longtime host, who says he is a practicing Anglican, believes that talking about his personal faith on-air would be “destructive” because of the increasing intolerance toward expressing religious views in the U.K. “One of the things that I think, which may sound bizarre, is that Christ is who He said He was. [But] I don’t think I’d put that out on my show,” Vine says. “I suppose there’s a bit of a firewall between thinking that and doing the job I do. … Clearly we live in a secular society and that has increased, but I don’t get a sense of being persecuted. There’s a problem for people who are active in their faith in feeling that the society around them ignores them.” [, 1/19/09]

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The American Outworking of Belief

QUOTE: “It’s just part of a 200-year working out of ideas about personal autonomy and equality that are sort of built into the American experience. The notion that someone is going to burn in hell because they have their own beliefs is just not resonant within our larger political ideals.” —Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, responding to the cultural shift toward an individualized, a la carte Christianity—as indicated in Barna’s recent study that showed American Christians are increasingly unwilling to believe their non-Christian neighbors will go to hell [, 1/14/09] read more

Setting the Captives Free

QUOTE: “As a Christian, I can’t be satisfied knowing there are people living in such a condition. As a Christian, I’m a steward of the image of God. And every person on the face of the earth bears that image. I became responsible for Eka the day I met her.” —former Portland, Ore., youth pastor Mike Mercer, who founded and directs a nonprofit ministry called Compassion First to help individuals such as Eka, a young Indonesian sex slave, not only break free from her life as a prostitute, but also integrate into a rehabilitation and education network. Compassion First is one of the many emerging ministries trying to reach the estimated 27 million-plus slaves worldwide—an effort USA Today columnist Tom Krattenmaker says is indicative of “what evangelical Christianity increasingly looks like in the new century, and in the new paradigm.” [, 1/12/09] read more

Global Church Crying for Cease-fire

Churches around the world echoed a singular cry last week calling for a cease-fire to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. In the United Kingdom, leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities met and released a statement urging British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to expend greater effort in ending the violence that has killed more than 850 Palestinians—including 230-plus children—and 13 Israelis since it began on Dec. 27. In addition, more than 3,300 people have reportedly been injured amid the conflict.

Both Israel and Hamas leaders have ignored a U.N. Security Council mandate to stop fighting, instead continuing the barrage of rocket fire and bombings throughout Southern Israel and the Gaza Strip. In explaining the massive discrepancy of fatalities between the two sides, Israel claims Hamas is using civilians as human shields.

“Behind all the horrors of death and destruction in Gaza are human faces and human stories,” said the statement released by British religious leaders. “Behind all the statistics for those killed and wounded, on either side, are human beings, each one a child of God.” Among those also officially calling for cease-fire are the World Council of Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Church of the Brethren. Several other parachurch ministries are involved in providing immediate aid to families caught amid the crossfire.

“What you see on television cannot be compared to what is happening,” reported Manuel Musallam, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Gaza City. “The word love is choking in my throat. … We are living like animals in Gaza. We cry and nobody hears us. I am asking God for mercy and pray that the light of Christianity continues to shine in Gaza.” [, 1/11/09; Catholic News Service, 1/5/09]

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Prophetic Movement Leader Dies

Jill Austin, a prominent prophetic minister and founder of Master Potter Ministries, died on Friday evening after an intestinal problem resulted in two emergency surgeries last week. She was 60.

Austin’s unexpected death came ahead of several conferences at which she was to be the featured speaker, including this Friday’s New Year Prophetic Glory Conference in Islandia, N.Y., hosted by prophetic evangelist Matt Sorger. “She was taken quickly, but her life and inspiration will live on through many still here on earth,” said Sorger, who said Austin’s ministry deeply impacted his own.

“Jill carried an unusual anointing of fire, zeal and passion for Jesus,” he said. “Holy Spirit was her closest friend. Angels were her companions. She was full of life and was great fun to be with. My heart will greatly miss this fiery prophet, but my spirit rejoices that she is now dancing with Jesus in glory with a brand new body.”

According to Austin’s California-based ministry, doctors last Tuesday discovered that Austin’s intestines were twisted and cutting off her blood supply. With a life-threatening infection setting in, she underwent two emergency surgeries during which parts of her stomach, intestines and colon were removed.

On Thursday, Steve Shultz, founder of the Elijah List prophetic-ministry Web portal and a personal friend of Austin’s, sent an urgent prayer alert via e-mail asking intercessors to pray for a miracle in Austin’s body.

Early Friday morning Austin’s blood pressure was dangerously low and her kidneys were beginning to fail. Friends at her ministry posted a prayer update that morning saying Austin needed “a creative miracle.”

“Jill is in the most crucial hour of her life,” they stated.

Austin was ultimately unable to recover and died Friday evening.

“Our beloved Jill went home to be with Jesus,” her staff stated on the Web site. “Thank you all for standing with us and praying. She is now with her best friend, Holy Spirit, and dancing with her destiny.”

During a memorial service for Austin held on Monday afternoon at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) based in Kansas City, Mo., Patricia King, founder of Extreme Prophetic, said she will dearly miss her longtime friend. “Jill was the most amazing woman of God I've ever known,” King said. “So full of fire ... she had this way of convicting me, so deep, but with such love. Many of us here, and many around the world, will never be the same because of Jill Austin.”

Austin was a veteran leader within the prophetic movement. She was described on her ministry Web site as having “a catalytic and prophetic anointing” that could “break open the heavens.” She taught about the presence and power of the Holy Spirit for nearly three decades both at conferences worldwide and through CDs and books such as Dancing With Destiny and the allegorical Master Potter series.

Sorger said Austin celebrated her 60th birthday in Israel last year—ironically the 60th anniversary of the modern Jewish state—and that he recalls Austin telling people she was going to get married in 2009. It turns out that “she was,” he said. “To Jesus, her Bridegroom.”

Austin, who often spoke of her passion for theater, music, movies and dance, was also an instructor at IHOP’s Forerunner School of Prayer.

“I will always remember Jill for the way she valued the presence of the Holy Spirit and how she strengthened us in her prophetic ministry,” said Mike Bickle, founder of IHOP. “I will remember her courage to take a stand for what she believed in and her hunger for deeper intimacy with Jesus.”

Born and raised in Hollywood, Austin was an award-winning professional potter. She used her clay and potter’s wheel on stage in the early years of her ministry while speaking softly to audiences about the love and tenderness of God.

“As clay vessels, each of us must take a journey,” Austin wrote in a 1998 article in Spirit-Led Woman magazine. “The steps in this journey can be painful but are necessary for us to be transformed from broken bits of clay into anointed vessels that reflect the glory of the Lord.

“At the moment when you just know you're going to die, the Lord opens all the dampers,” she said of the spiritual refining process. “Shaking and crying, healing and deliverance, deep repentance and intercession fill the kiln as hungry hearts cry out for more of God. When the Lord walks through the kiln and sees Himself reflected on each vessel as in a mirror, He turns off the kiln. The Master Potter has perfected His work of art.”

During more recent ministry, Austin called Christians to “infiltrate” the media, urging believers to be proactive when receiving revelations from God through dreams, visions and visitations.

“I was captivated by Jill’s zeal and fire in the Lord,” Sorger said. “I’ll never forget her famous words: ‘Do you want a visitation? How hungry are you? Is your shadow dangerous?’ Her passion stirred a hunger in my heart for more of Holy Spirit.

“I honor the life she lived in devotion to God,” he added. “I honor the anointing she carried on her life. I honor her friend, Holy Spirit. I believe when a seed is planted in the ground, it does not remain alone, but it produces a harvest. I believe Jill’s life will be multiplied through those who knew and were impacted by her.”

Austin is survived by two sisters, Judith and Joan; one brother, Jon Mark; and several nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were held Monday afternoon near IHOP in Lee’s Summit, Mo. A second memorial service will be held on Friday at Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, Calif.  Check the Master Potter Web site for further details. [, 1/12/09]

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Haggard Goes ‘Below the Belt’

QUOTE: “If you’re going to come out and begin a new life, why would you choose an HBO documentary, then meet with the liberal Hollywood press? The fact that he’s attacking the church or New Life Church, when they did so much to help him and his family, is below the belt.” —Focus on the Family executive H.B. London, on the recent tactics of former New Life Church pastor Ted Haggard, who last week held a press conference in Los Angeles to promote the upcoming documentary The Trials of Ted Haggard. Produced by Alexandra Pelosi (daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi), the HBO special follows Haggard in the months after his fall and includes him ranting against a church that “has said go to hell” and “chose not to forgive me.” London was involved in counseling Haggard through a restoration process, which the high-profile minister prematurely broke off, according to multiple sources. Haggard is scheduled to tape a show with Oprah Winfrey later this week that will air later this month. [AP, 1/10/09]

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Default No More

It’s no secret that Christianity’s influence upon American culture has waned in recent generations. Yet the most recent Barna study offers further proof: Half of all Americans now believe Christianity isn’t the country’s default religion, but is instead one of many options of faith.

Two weeks ago the Ministry Report highlighted a Gallup poll showing that two-thirds of Americans believe religion is losing ground in this nation. Yet Barna’s new report indicates just how far Christianity has fallen in comparison to other religions. Most convinced of this shift are evangelicals—64 percent of whom believe Christianity is no longer the religion Americans automatically accept as their personal faith—and Hispanics (60 percent).

Interestingly enough, this comes at a time when a greater number of Americans (74 percent) believe spirituality is more important to them than it used to be. That may explain why Americans—by a whopping three-to-one margin—are more likely to develop their own personal set of beliefs than accept those taught by a church or denomination. Even among born-again Christians polled, 61 percent adopt an a la carte approach to their faith. Not surprisingly, the group most likely to customize their faith is those under age 25 (82 percent). [, 1/12/09]

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In Jesus’ Name

The drama surrounding Rick Warren’s forthcoming invocation at President-elect Barack Obama’s inaugural ceremony just won’t subside. After being maligned by both gay-rights groups and evangelicals for accepting Obama’s invitation, the Saddleback Church pastor is now being grilled on whether he’ll offer his prayer in the name of Jesus.

“I’m a Christian pastor so I will pray the only kind of prayer I know how to pray,” Warren stated last week in a written response. “Prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements nor political posturing. They are humble, personal appeals to God.”

At George W. Bush’s inauguration, both Franklin Graham and Kirbyjon Caldwell concluded their prayers in Jesus’ name—including Caldwell’s delivery “in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ”—which drew harsh criticism and led to renowned atheist Michael Newdow claiming in a lawsuit the utterance was an “unconstitutional endorsement of religion.” In 2005, Caldwell again prayed in Jesus’ name but added the line, “respecting persons of all faiths.”

When asked about Warren’s situation, Graham said: “For a Christian, especially for an evangelical pastor, the Bible teaches us that we are to pray in the name of Jesus Christ. How can a minister pray any other way? If you don’t want someone to pray in Jesus’ name, don’t invite an evangelical minister.”

Just how much has American culture changed that this has become an issue? When Richard Nixon was sworn in as president in 1969, Billy Graham virtually offered an invitation to salvation, concluding his prayer “in the Name of the Prince of Peace who shed His blood on the Cross that men might have eternal life.” [AP, 12/30/08]

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