Don’t think your ministry can make a difference? Tell that to a couple of businessmen who met in a crowded hotel in 1898 and decided to create an organization dedicated to serving the traveling soul. Now celebrating its 100-year anniversary, the Gideons International, founded by John Nicholson and Sam Hill, has distributed an astounding 1.5 billion Bibles since 1908, when the group began placing Scripture in hotel rooms.
“I think there’s an untold number of people that have had their lives changed as a result of reading the Gideon Bible or New Testament,” said Steve Smith, director of communications and development for the Gideons. “We’ve been blessed to learn the details of many of those and are confident there are still many more we have not yet learned about.” Last year alone the interdenominational ministry gave out nearly 77 million Gideon Scriptures, translated into 85 languages in 187 countries around the world.
“What it’s done is actually changed our culture,” commented Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “People expect there to be a Bible in a hotel room. There’s hardly anything that’s parallel to it.” [AP, 1/1/09; gideons.org, 1/5/09]
QUOTE: “The flood of prophecies for 2009 have begun to come in. They sound remarkably similar to most I have been hearing for the past 15 years. ‘This is the year of revival! This is the year of His power. This is the year of increase! This is the year of harvest!’ … There is a major problem with all of the prophecies about revival to come. It is a religious problem, which Jesus encountered. Religion will get all excited about the Messiah to come but try to kill Him when He is standing in their midst. Why? The Messiah in the future does not demand faith and obedience now! The revival to come does not demand obedience now. We can feel all warm and fuzzy about the wonderful word and clap at what God will do while conveniently forgetting that wherever people are simply obeying Jesus they are seeing the kingdom multiply now.” —Steve Hill, co-founder of worldwide ministry Harvest Now, responding to the numerous prophetic words that typically come at New Year’s [harvest-now.org, 1/4/09]
A report from the statistical arm of England’s Bible Society claims that within a generation the number of people attending Church of England services will be a tenth of the current—and already plummeting—amount. Peter Brierley, former executive director of Christian Research, says that based on a “snapshot” church census and an extrapolation of recent church attendance trends, only 87,800 people will be attending Anglican services in 2050 —down from almost 1 million today. Critics say the study is incomplete and doesn’t factor in the growing sector of para-church worship. Many also argue that it’s extremely difficult to form an accurate prediction in such religiously tumultuous times for the country.
Yet the downward trend of England’s longstanding religious establishment is undeniable. “Church attendance has already been in decline for over 60 years, all over Britain, in all major denominations and across all age groups, except the over-65s,” said Keith Porteous-Wood of the National Secular Society. “Independent statisticians now have enough data to predict confidently that the decline will continue until Christianity becomes a minority sect of largely elderly people, in little more than a generation.” [guardian.co.uk, 12/21/08]
Two-thirds of Americans believe religion is losing its influence on daily life in our country, while only 27 percent believe it is gaining ground, according to the latest Gallup poll. That’s a drastic difference from only three years ago, when one out of two people thought religion’s influence on our society was increasing.
Gallup has asked the same question since 1957, and although the current weak image of religion is not as low as it was during the late 1960s and Vietnam War (when 75 percent of Americans thought it was losing influence), it marks one of the lowest times statistically.
Interestingly enough, the shifts in perception about religion have almost always coincided with major political events. One outstanding exception to that were the events on 9/11, which prompted 71 percent of Americans to say religion was on the upswing. Also noteworthy is who believes religion’s influence is sliding: 74 percent of those who said it was losing ground attended church weekly, in contrast to 63 percent who agreed but rarely if ever attend church.
Not surprisingly, the percentage of Americans who believe religion can answer society’s problems is at an all-time low (53 percent). By contrast, 82 percent of Americans in 1957 believed it was the solution. Today, almost 30 percent believe religion is “largely old-fashioned and out of date”—another record since the poll began more than 50 years ago. [gallup.com, 12/23/08]
QUOTE: “What this church is starting with is very on trend with the culture right now and the desire to be very integrated and involved with communities. People are looking for a church that authenticates the Gospel.” —Dave Travis, managing director of Leadership Network, on the “unusual” financial setup of Waterfront Community Church in Schaumburg, Ill. The nondenominational church, which meets in a high school auditorium, relies heavily on service from most of its 200 members, operates on a shoestring budget, and gives 100 percent of its tithes and offerings to those in need in the surrounding community. Waterfront, which just started in October, pays its bills and salaries via eight sponsors, half of whom attend the church. “We started asking around, ‘What are the needs of the community?’” said Waterfront pastor and founder Jim Semradek. “When you present that need to people, they’re very responsive. People have very generous hearts.” [AP, 12/27/08]
Former pastor Ted Haggard admits in a new HBO documentary titled The Trials of Ted Haggard that he was guilty of sexual immorality in the past, but that he’s unhappy with some of the consequences he, his wife, Gayle, and his five children have had to face since he was caught in a sex-and-drugs scandal two years ago.
“We’ve been exiled permanently from the state of Colorado,” he told filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi in 2007. “We’re miserable.”
Haggard, who was accused of soliciting a male prostitute and purchasing methamphetamines in November 2006, moved his family back to Colorado Springs earlier this year and is selling life insurance to make a living.
Next month, he will help promote the new HBO documentary.
Before The Trials of Ted Haggard began making publicity, Haggard remained mostly out of the public eye since being dismissed from his former church in 2006.
One notable exception was when he spoke last month in the pulpit of a longtime friend—the pastor of Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill. After that appearance leaders involved in Haggard’s original restoration process quickly told Charisma that they strongly disagreed with his decision to speak at the church.
In addition, Haggard’s spiritual restoration was deemed “incomplete” earlier this year by leaders from New Life Church, which Haggard founded in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1984.
Brady Boyd, senior pastor of New Life Church, told Charisma the church has freed its former pastor from any further obligation. “We have released Ted and Gayle from their separation agreement with New Life Church,” he said. “They are free to move forward with their lives in any way they choose without any legal constraint from the church. We wish Ted, Gayle and their family only the best in the future.”
In the film, Haggard acknowledges that he violated church rules and “shouldn’t have done that,” but questions the wisdom of the church leaders who banished him for being, as Pelosi suggests, “bad for business.”
“I think if they would’ve been chess players instead of checker players they would’ve realized that I am their business—somebody struggling with sin,” Haggard says in the 42-minute documentary, which airs Jan. 29.
Pelosi, daughter of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, befriended Haggard in 2005 when he was still New Life’s pastor and head of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals. She gathered footage for a documentary called Friends of God, which focused on evangelicalism’s power in Washington politics.
For her latest project, Pelosi interviewed Haggard during the year and a half after the 2006 scandal, filming him selling insurance door-to-door and following him on his first-ever secular job interview—a counseling position at the University of Phoenix. “If they don’t google me, I’ll get the job,” he tells her.
Haggard appears in the documentary at times contrite, at other times as if victimized by the church establishment. He explains to Pelosi that homosexuality is seen as worse than murder in some Christian circles. “If you google me you’d think I’m Adolph Hitler,” he says.
He says his homosexual urges stemmed from same-sex sex play in the seventh grade and that “it all blew up” when he turned 50.
More recently, at Open Bible Fellowship last month Haggard said his same-sex temptation might have resulted from a sexual experience he had as a 7-year-old with a male worker employed by his father.
Haggard’s wife, Gayle, tells Pelosi that before the scandal broke she considered herself a happy woman, completely unaware of the depth of her husband’s internal struggle.
She says she stayed with her husband after the scandal because she loved him and believed their marriage was worth fighting for. “I knew that to restore honor to our children, the best thing I could do was restore honor to him,” she says.
In the film, Haggard identifies himself as an evangelical Christian, who “from time to time struggles with same-sex attraction.” He denies a comment, widely circulated in the media after the scandal, that he claimed to be “completely hetereosexual.”
Haggard says that just because he still struggles with same-sex attraction doesn’t mean he’s abandoned his traditional views on marriage and family. “I still believe this,” Haggard says, “even though I’m a sinner and even though I’m weak, that God’s best plan for human beings is for man and woman to unite together.” [charismamag.com, 12/26/08]