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Posts tagged ‘Christian theology’

8 Keys to Defeating Sexual Sin.


young couple
(© Pkripper503/ StockFreeImages)

When I agreed to write about sexual immorality in thebody of Christ, I thought pulling the information together would be an easy task. As a pastor, counselor, speaker and public health educator, I often address this topic. But as I began to wrestle with the many perspectives from which I could approach the issue, I almost lost myself in a crippling hodgepodge of psychology, sociology and theology.

Finally, I decided that the best approach was the biblical approach. After all, God‘s perspective, clearly revealed in His Word, is the only perspective that really matters.

The Bible makes four simple declarations about human sexuality:

1. God created our sexuality, and it is beautiful (see Gen. 1:26-28; 2:24-25).

2. Sex within the marriage covenant is holy and pure (see Heb. 13:4).

3. Sex outside the marriage covenant is sin (see 1 Cor. 6:9).

4. Sexual relations with the same sex is an abomination (see Lev. 18:22).

Many nonbelievers would probably reject these statements as trivial, outdated, homophobic, narrow-minded, judgmental, accusatory and discriminatory. Unfortunately, judging from their lifestyles, many Christians do too.

I’m not writing to nonbelievers. I’m writing as a Christian to Christians from a Christian perspective.

I wish sexual immorality were a problem outside the church only. But it’s not. It’s a big problem inside the church, also, among Christians and Christian leaders.

Often when I’ve taught about sexuality in church meetings, I’ve been shocked by the concerns that were expressed to me privately. Take my word for it: Every form of sexual addiction, perversion and practice is alive and well among believers, and it stretches from the pulpit to the vestibule of the church and everywhere in between.

The issues, problems and consequences of carnality and sexual immorality are recorded in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. God has given us clear guidelines in His Word. So why are so many believers today involved in sexual sin?

Let me put it bluntly: The reason is that too many of us are refusing to yield totally to the Holy Spirit. We declare with our mouths that we love Jesus; we say we will follow Him wherever He leads us.

But our actions indicate otherwise. Our actions say, “I love you, Jesus, almost as much as I love myself; and I will follow you all the way until I get to the fork in the road where I make the choice to satisfy my own carnal desires. I will believe your Word up to the point at which it disagrees with the secular perspective that explains my behavior. Any variance from that perspective means Your Word is outdated and is not for today.”

How did we get to this place? How did the body of Christ reach the state in which sexual sins are not only overlooked by many Christian leaders but are being openly committed by the keepers of the flame? Blatant immorality, drunkenness, womanizing and perversion are running rampant and unchecked in too many assemblies!

Strong words, you say? Yes, these are very strong words. But strong words are what are needed to rout the “strongman” of immorality. The sins of fornication, adultery, homosexuality and perversion have become deeply rooted in the church and are tolerated by too many of us.

Part of the problem is that we’ve believed the lie that church leaders are “faultless.” That lie has caused many of us to close our eyes to the sexual sins in which some leaders have engaged while serving as our spiritual shepherds. Those “private Bible studies” and late night “counseling sessions” with single folks, unhappy spouses and “sick” members have gone unchallenged and unrebuked by a godly membership.

Now mistresses have the audacity to sit on the front row in the church. Homosexual lovers don’t hesitate to share the platform during praise and worship. Unmarried couples who sleep together Saturday night have no qualms about sitting in church together Sunday morning.

I am aware that I sound angry. I am angry! I’m tired of seeing strong young men and women in the church devastated by the ravages of AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases and dysfunctional lifestyles as a result of sexual immorality. It hurts to see the hopes and promises of beautiful teen-agers and young women dashed when they discover that they’re pregnant and the father has disappeared or has announced to the world that the child is not his baby because the pregnant female “sleeps around.”

Who will comfort the young child who has been fondled by a priest, a pastor or a trustee of the church in the church? Who will help rebuild the shattered emotions of the pastor’s wife after she has discovered her husband’s infidelity with the church secretary or the Sunday school teacher, or worse yet, one of the young men in the choir? Who will sound the clarion call to sanctification and holiness in this age of promiscuity and rank immorality?

Needless to say, we need a revival. The principles of sanctification and holiness need to be revived at the altar. We must stop petting folks who want to stay in their sins. We must herald the truth of God’s Word. We must face sexuality immorality squarely in the face and declare holy war on our carnal nature.

God has given us plain and simple instructions throughout the Bible such as those found in Galatians 5:16: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (NKJV). We need to study the Bible and let the Word of God speak to us. We must be willing to hear and to repent of the sin that God reveals in our lives through His Word. After all, we serve a loving and gracious God who is waiting and willing to forgive us, sanctify us and restore us.

The strongman of immorality can and must be overcome in our lives and in our churches. There are specific things we can do to ensure his defeat.

1. Flee temptation. If you are struggling to overcome sexual sin, it is your responsibility to flee temptation. Be wise. Avoid situations that would contribute to sexual arousal. For example, if you are dating, don’t allow your date to sexually arouse you with kisses, touches or any other kind of stimulation.

If soft music turns you on, put on some hymns or a loud Kirk Franklin album. Play a marching band if you must!

More importantly, associate with those who have the same attitude about sexual purity that you do. I know it can be difficult to track them down, but there are saved brothers and sisters out there somewhere. Entreat the Holy Spirit to help you find them.

2. Ask for help. If you need special help, seek out a Christian therapist or physician who is trained in handling the behavioral problems and addictions that have a stranglehold on your life. All healing comes from the Lord, but not everyone is able to get free from behavioral problems without assistance.

3. Take the risks seriously. If you know what is right but are choosing to live in willful disobedience, I ask: Is it worth the risk? As a Christian participating in a sexually immoral lifestyle, you risk death from incurable, sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis and more. You risk losing your mate and your family because of your unfaithfulness. You risk losing your self-esteem and the respect of your peers and neighbors. You risk devastating your business or profession, especially if you are in ministry. Worst of all, you risk your fellowship with the Lord.

4. Make a commitment. It doesn’t matter whether the behavior you’re involved in is “trendy” or not. As a Christian, you are a “slave of righteousness,” and your call is to crucify the lusts of the flesh. It is possible to live holy if you desire to do so. Commit yourself to staying before the Lord on a daily basis and avoiding anything that would contribute to your taste for immoral pleasures or gratification outside of marriage.

5. Confront unfaithfulness. If you are a Christian wife and your husband has been unfaithful, ask yourself: Is your spouse truly repentant, and will he remain faithful after repentance? Is the unfaithfulness a continuous practice, or was it just one breach of fidelity? Is your spouse a professing Christian, or does he just go to church on Sunday? Is he a Spirit-filled man whom Satan tripped up but who is now truly repentant?

Only you can answer these questions. Forgiveness is possible–and biblical–but the Bible also says that you are not obligated to remain with an unfaithful mate. If you choose to stay with him, you must realize that your husband’s unfaithfulness could well mean your early demise from undetected disease. Given the severity of the sexual diseases among us, I strongly suggest a period of sexual abstinence and then the use of protection at all times, even after lab reports have determined that your mate is disease-free.

Even if your husband is a pastor or church leader, do not hesitate to confront him head-on about his infidelity and report it to the other church authorities. Women must stop shielding and hiding such behavior. Many are suffering physical abuse and threats from these “spiritual leaders” because they are too afraid or too embarrassed to expose them.

Stop being a punching bag for these unregenerate heathen! The Word tells us that a man is worse than an infidel if he neglects his family (see 1 Tim. 5:8). Seek legal help to get the support you need to maintain your family and yourself. There are laws on the books that address adultery!

6. Don’t accept excuses. If you are a member of a congregation and discover that one of your leaders is being sexually immoral, you have a responsibility to bring it to the attention of the church leadership. This action must not be based on hearsay or gossip. But if you know without a doubt, then it is your duty as a Christian to pull the covers off this festering boil that affects the whole body of Christ.

There are no excuses. We do things because we want to do them, and your pastor or leader is no exception. Besides, how can you sit under the leadership of a hypocrite who thumbs his nose at God’s state of holy matrimony?

Yes, it takes courage to uncover sin, but it must be done–even if you are rejected by the leadership. Even if you’re called a liar! Just pick up your marbles and move to another ministry after you have sought God’s face. You don’t want to find that you’ve run from the frying pan into the fire.

7. Confess your sin. If you are a Christian leader, pastor or minister involved in sexual immorality, you need to confess your sin and seek serious counseling–both psychological and spiritual. I personally believe you need to be relieved of your position during this process. You cannot continue on as though nothing has happened. There needs to be public repentance and restoration before you mount the pulpit again or accept any kind of leadership position.

8. Stand up for holiness. To all believers and ministers of the gospel, I say: Wake up! We need to combine forces to lead a strong, faith-based, biblical attack on the scourge of sexual immorality that has become epidemic in our congregations.

It is time to stand up for Jesus. It is time to rebuild the walls of holiness and sexual purity in the church so that we are no longer a reproach to the world. In the words of Nehemiah 2:8: “Let us rise up and build!”

 


Judy Ann Fisher is the founderof the Full Gospel Church of the Lord’s Missions International in Washington, D.C. She is a gifted businesswoman, she is owner of several companies and has traveled extensively as a motivator, lecturer and presenter of her Human Sexuality series.

Study: Many Believers Struggle to Obey God’s Word.


reading Bible
Canadian churchgoers say reading the Bible has changed their life, and they readily confess their sins. (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Canadian churchgoers say reading the Bible has changed their life and they readily confess their sins, according to a survey by LifeWay Research.

The survey included 1,086 Canadian lay people who attend church at least once a month.

More than half say they try to avoid temptations but few say that becoming a better Christian involves self-denial.

About a third (33 percent) of Canadian churchgoers agree with the statement, “A Christian must learn to deny himself/herself in order to serve Christ.” Close to half (45 percent) disagreed.

“Obeying God and Denying Self” is one of eight attributes of discipleship found in the Transformational Discipleship study conducted by Nashville, Tenn.-based LifeWay Research.

Each of the eight attributes consistently shows up in the lives of spiritually growing believers, said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.

McConnell said researchers didn’t list specific sins that churchgoers should avoid. Instead, they were more interested in people’s attitudes. They wanted to see how important obeying God is to churchgoers.

He said spiritual maturity goes beyond avoiding sin and asking for forgiveness. It also involves conscious choices to obey God’s will rather than our own.

“Obeying God is only easy when a person’s own desires match God’s,” McConnell said. “Until believers have the same mind as Christ, denying their own natural desires will be hard.”

The survey asked churchgoers how often they confess sins or ask for forgiveness. It’s a way to measure a spiritual attribute called “Obeying God and Denying Self.”

Sixteen percent of those surveyed say they confess sin and seek forgiveness daily. One in five say they confess to God a few times a week. Almost a quarter (23 percent) rarely or never confess sins and wrongdoings to God and ask forgiveness.

The survey also asked churchgoers how proactive they are in avoiding sin.

Just over half (52 percent) agree with the statement: “I try to avoid situations in which I might be tempted to think or do immoral things.” Twenty-five percent disagree, and 23 percent are indifferent.

More than half of Canadian churchgoers (58 percent) change their attitudes when they feel those attitudes displease God.

The idea of obeying God, however, got mixed results, especially the statement: “When I realize that I have a choice between ‘my way’ and ‘God’s way,’ I usually choose my own way.”

Forty-percent disagree, while nearly the same number (38 percent) neither agree nor disagree. Only two percent strongly agree, while 22 percent agree overall.

The survey also reveals actions that lead to higher scores on the “Obeying God and Denying Self” attribute, according to researchers.

Those actions include:

  • Attending a worship service;
  • Making a decision to obey or follow God with an awareness that choosing His way may in some way be costly;
  • Being discipled or mentored one-on-one by a more spiritually mature Christian;
  • Reading the Bible or a book about what is in the Bible;
  • Praying for unbelieving acquaintances;
  • Setting aside time for prayer of any kind.

McConnell noted that “Obeying God and Denying Self” is the only one of the eight attributes of discipleship that was predicted by more frequent worship attendance.

It’s a sign that spiritual maturity often happens in community, said McConnell.

“Many people think of obeying God as something they must do on their own,” he said. “However, it’s clear through the research findings that the teaching, encouragement and accountability of corporate worship have a direct impact on obedience.”

These findings on obeying God and denying self are part of the largest discipleship study of its kind. Results from each of the eight attributes of spiritual maturity will continue to be released over the coming months.

LifeWay Research used the study’s data to develop a questionnaire for believers, called the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA). This online evaluation delivers both individual and group reports on spiritual maturity based on eight factors of biblical discipleship. The TDA also provides practical suggestions for continued spiritual development.

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

Enraptured by the light….


By Pastor Bobby Schuller

“…he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…”
-Titus 3:5

In you life, as you grow in Jesus, what he is looking for in you is more than just action, although he wants action. He wants to give you a new heart, a new will, a new way of viewing life, that given the opportunity, you wouldn’t do wrong. Why? Because you don’t want to. That’s what it means. There’s no binding, there are no handcuffs, there’s no wrestling. It’s just a newly created heart. It’s a heart that, through training and knowing God and loving God and being close to him, doesn’t want to do negative things anymore.

You grow into a life where you consistently say, “Of course, I love my enemies. Of course, I wouldn’t lie. Of course, I’m going to care of those who are in need. Of course, I’m not going to worry.” It becomes a natural part of the new creation that you are. How cool is that?

Jesus didn’t come to bring a new law. He came to write the ideas and the fullness of his instruction on your heart, to make you a new creation.

A Christian, then, is not necessarily someone who doesn’t do this and does do that. A Christian is someone who is just like Jesus, no matter where they are, no matter what the situation is. It’s not about what they do and don’t do. It’s about a person who is so enraptured in God‘s light and love that, of course, they’re going to do the right thing.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for life, and thank you for a new life. You’re turning me into a new creation as I draw closer to you. In love and grace, your living water causes me to grow into the person you designed me to be. Amen.

Reflection: How have you grown since accepting Christ as your Lord?

How Can Your Testimony Help You Evangelize?.


A time-honored, effective method of evangelism is your personal testimony. Just telling about your spiritual pilgrimage. The skeptic may deny your doctrine or attack your church, but he cannot honestly ignore the fact that your life has been cleaned up and revolutionized.

Now, I’m not talking about some stale, dragged-out verbal marathon. That kind of testimony never attracted anyone! I’m speaking of an effective, powerful missile launched from your lips to the ears of the unsaved. Consider these five suggestions:

1. You want to be listened to, so be interesting. It’s a contradiction to talk about how exciting Christ really is in an uninteresting way. Remember to guard against religious clichés, jargon, and hard-to-understand terminology. Theologians, beware!

2. You want to be understood, so be logical. Think of your salvation in three phases and construct your testimony accordingly: (a) before you were born again—the struggles within, the loneliness, lack of peace, absence of love, unrest, and fears; (b) the decision that revolutionized your life; and (c) the change—the difference it has made since you received Christ.

3. You want the moment of your new birth to be clear, so be specific. Don’t be vague. Speak of Christ, not the church. Emphasize faith more than feeling. Be simple and direct as you describe what you did or what you prayed or what you said. This is crucial!

4. You want your testimony to be used, so be practical. Be human and honest as you talk. Don’t promise, “All your problems will end if you will become a Christian,” for that isn’t true. Try to think as unbelievers think.

5. You want your testimony to produce results, so be warm and genuine. A smile breaks down more barriers than the hammer blows of cold, hard facts. Let your enthusiasm flow freely. It’s hard to convince someone of the sheer joy and excitement of knowing Christ if you’re wearing a face like a jail warden. Above all, be positive and courteous. Absolutely refuse to argue. Nobody I ever met was “arm wrestled” into the kingdom. Insults and put-downs turn people off.

Ask God to open your lips and honor your words . . . but be careful! Once your missile hits the target, you’ll become totally dissatisfied with your former life as an earthbound, secret-service saint.

Taken from “Sharing Your Testimony” by Insight for Living Ministries (used by permission).

Chuck Swindoll

The B-I-B-L-E: The Wordless Book Song.


Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Psalm 51:7

Recommended Reading
Psalm 51 ( http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2051&version=NKJV )

In a sermon in 1866, Charles Spurgeon told of an old man who used to study a wordless book of three pages — black, red, and white. Spurgeon proceeded to present the Gospel using those colors to symbolize sin, the blood of Christ, and forgiveness. A few years later, evangelist D. L. Moody preached in Liverpool using a wordless book of four pages, adding gold to illustrate heaven. Christian workers around the world started using the “Wordless Book” to lead children of all ages to Christ, sometimes adding a green page for Christian growth.

Listen to Today’s Radio Message ( http://www.davidjeremiah.org/site/radio.aspx?tid=email_listenedevo )

Frances M. Johnston put words to the Wordless Book when she wrote a song about it: “My heart was dark with sin, until the Savior came in. His precious blood I know, has washed it white as snow. And in His Word I’m told, I’ll walk the streets of gold. To grow in Christ each day, I read the Bible and pray.”

When we experience the message of the Wordless Book for ourselves, it leaves us speechless. Try sharing the Gospel soon, using the colors of grace.

In yourselves, you are stained with sin; but when you stand before God, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, the stains of sin are all gone.
Charles H. Spurgeon

Read-Thru-the-Bible
Song of Solomon 1-8

By David Jeremiah.

Ed Stetzer: Doxology and Theology.


Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

To say worship is a subject of great interest in the church would be an understatement. Worship is an integral part of our lives as Christians. That’s why I’m thankful for worship leaders like Matt Boswell.

Matt serves as pastor of ministries and worship at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. He leads Doxology & Theology, a community of worship leaders commited to promoting “gospel-centered worship by connecting and equipping worship leaders.”

Matt has also written a book by the same name, and I’m glad to have him here to answer some questions about the book and the intersection of worship and theology:

Ed Stetzer: Why do you believe one of the greatest needs of the church is theologically driven worship leaders?

Matt Boswell: One of the greatest needs of the church is men who lead congregational worship with a guitar in one hand, a Bible in the other, and know how to use both weapons well. The majority of churches devote half of their service to the leadership of a musician. The musicians who lead churches this way are shaping local congregations theologically, philosophically, and impacting churches for better or worse. Congregational worship is a forming practice. If our worship is to be gospel-centered and God-glorifying and church-edifying, those who lead congregational worship need to serve from a robust theological foundation. In this light, it is important that worship leaders be qualified biblically to lead congregations from a place of understanding.

ES: In your new book Doxology & Theology, you put great emphasis on worship leadership and theological aptitude. What are the ramifications for the church if worship leaders don’t bring both to the congregation?

MB: Worship leading is a theological practice. God cares deeply about how His people worship Him, and so it stands to reason that He also cares about who leads His people in worship. What we find from a cursory view of Acts 20:17-38 is that overseers (episkopous, v. 28) or elders (presbuteros, v. 17) are mandated with the sacred task of shepherding the people of God. These terms of leadership are interchangeable throughout the New Testament, and [they] are given the unique role of teaching the church (1 Tim. 4:11-16). It is through this lens of leading and teaching that the modern practice of the worship leader must be seen. From choosing the songs of a local congregation to leading in public prayer and praise, the worship leader is a perfunctory shepherd and teacher. To underestimate the shape and influence that we have entrusted to the role of worship leader would be a mistake.

ES: Are you seeing a renewed hunger for worship leaders to deepen their understanding of biblical worship? To what do you attribute that hunger?

MB: There is a resurgence of worship leaders who are eager to grow theologically. Last fall we had nearly 500 worship leaders for a conference in Texas called Doxology & TheologyThere were Baptists and Presbyterians, Lutherans and Methodists all gathered together to explore how Scripture shapes our worship. In the book, I propose that Christian worship is built upon, shaped by and saturated with Scripture. In the coming years, we will continue to see a generation of worship leaders hungry to grow theologically. The reason is that we understand the landscape of biblical worship is far more vast than singing songs.

ES: Why must there be a marriage between theology and doxology?

MB: Theology without doxology leads to legalism. The study of God is meant to fill our hearts and minds. Doxology void of theology leads to existentialism. Theology is meant to produce worship. Doxology without theology leads to sensationalism. With the humanistic, neo-orthodox and liberal renaissance in view, evangelicals realize that we cannot serve as the foundational litmus test of truth, but that truth exists perfectly in the character of God and is revealed to us through his perfect Word. We are a profoundly doxological and theological people.

ES: How can we distinguish between and guard ourselves against a man-centered view of worship rather than a God-centered view?

MB: This is one of the most important conversations of our day. Many worship gatherings focus primarily on the implications of Scripture and on the morality of man rather than lift the gaze of people to beholding the glory of God. We focus our gaze upon the performance and morality of man rather than raise our eyes to the glory of God. By beginning with looking to God, it is only then that we are able to rightly (biblically) address the nature and needs of man. God-centered worship is the framework for healthy churches.

ES: Why do you believe that Psalm 96 shapes doxology, theology, the worship leader and the mission of the church?

MB: Psalm 96 is a microcosm of some crucial perspectives that Scripture gives us pertaining the contours of worship. First, we see in it that theology informs doxology. Our praise of God is built upon His revelation to man. Second, theology shapes doxology. Themes of redemption, atonement, substitution lie at the center of our worship. Third, theology propels doxology. Fourth, our right understanding of God results in the worship of His people both gathered and scattered. In this reality, we understand that the nations of the world are listening to the worship of the church and being invited to join in the song. Throughout the Scripture we see a rhythm of revelation and response, of theology and doxology.

ES: Explain how God-centered worship is a proclamation and why we must worship with an eschatological eye.

MB: God-centered worship is also proclamative. We haven’t been called to keep the mysteries of the gospel to ourselves. We have been summoned to “say among the nations, the Lord reigns.” We should never boldly proclaim into a microphone that which we wouldn’t have the courage to share with our neighbor. What we truly believe about the gospel is evidenced by how concerned or unconcerned we are for those apart from its grip.

Worshipping with an eschatological eye means that as the people of God, we worship in light of eternity. Our unwavering confidence is fixed on the day when Christ will return, God will dwell among His people and we will worship Him forever. When we gather together as the body of Christ, we are rehearsing for the worship of eternity (as well as participating in it even right now, as “citizens of heaven” [Phil. 3:20] who are seated with Christ in the heavenlies [Eph. 2:6]).

ES: You urge worship leaders to see their role in the context of the entire body of Christ. Is there danger in worship leaders defining themselves beyond that?

MB: My concern is that far too many worship leaders define themselves only by their function. We must also remember that “worship leader” is a man-given title. The title “worship leader” is not an identity; it is a temporary assignment. The role should not be overemphasized or underemphasized but seen in the context of one small piece of the body of Christ. Our position before God is secured in what Christ has done for us, not in the ministry we do for Him. The more we allow the truths of the gospel to form our identity, the more apt we will be to serve without fear or the tendency to perform.

Written by Ed Stetzer


Ed Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research. This post originally appeared at ChristianityToday.com/EdStetzer.

4 Mad Skills Every Pastor Needs.


Steve-Murrell-Headshot small

Steve Murrell

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog on my website titled “3 Essential Skills for Leaders.

While flipping through an old Moleskine this morning, I found some of my scribbled notes that described not three, but four skills all pastors must discover and constantly develop for the rest of their lives.

Here’s a remix of the original three, plus a fourth.

1. All pastors must develop theological skills. The bare-bone, foundational theological skills include the big three: systematic theology, New and Old Testament survey, and hermeneutics. I picked up some of these skills in seminary, some by reading books and some by listening to podcasts. Recommended books include Christian Theology by Millard EricksonSystematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, and How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.

2. All pastors must develop relational skills. Starting-point relational skills are forgiving people, asking for forgiveness and encouraging the discouraged. Whoever develops these skills will be an amazing pastor, leader, husband, wife, parent and friend. Recommended book: the Bible.

3. All pastors must develop leadership skills. Three foundational leadership skills include strategic planning, communication and branding or marketing. This short list might not sound super spiritual, but good church leadership is more methodical than mystical. Here are some great leadership books that all pastors and ministry leaders should read: The Advantage by Patrick LencioniHow the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins, Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, and Focus by Al Ries.

4. All pastors must develop ministry skills. Three ministry skills serve as the foundation for all other  skills a pastor must develop: preaching the gospel (one-to-one and from the pulpit), ministering the baptism in the Holy Spirit and making disciples in small groups. If a pastor can do these three, it does not matter if there is no budget or building, the church will be strong and healthy. Recommended books: Making Disciples by Ralph Moore and Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.

Looks like this blog accidentally turned into a reading list!

Written by Steve Murrell


Steve and Deborah Murrell went to the Philippines in 1984 for a one-month summer mission trip that never ended. They are the founding pastors of Victory Manila, one church that meets in 14 locations in Metro Manila and has planted churches in 60 Philippine cities and 20 nations. Currently, Victory has more than 6,000 discipleship groups that meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories and homes in Metro Manila. Steve is co-founder and president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries, a family of churches focused on church planting, campus ministry and world missions.

For the original article, visit stevemurrell.com.

How One Movie Expresses Christian Theology in 10 Minutes.


'5 Minuti'
In ‘5 Minuti,’ a woman is about to jump to her death when she is approached by a man who turns out to be Jesus.

The movie 5 Minuti expresses much of Christian theology in a mere 10 minutes. Barbara is about to jump to her death when she is approached by a handsome young man who turns out to be Jesus.

Barbara tells Jesus she will give Him five minutes, and in that five-minute conversation we discover Jesus is a being beyond time and place, that He suffered greatly on our behalf, that God is the Creator of the universe, that faith is important to salvation and love is an overriding good, that we should be humble, and that we can have an intimate, personal relationship with the ultimate Being in the universe.

5 Minuti is simply one of the best expressions of Christian theology that I have come across. In a mere 10 minutes, this film establishes Jesus as a being beyond time and place, describes the suffering and sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross, identifies God as the Creator of the universe, shows the importance of faith in the process of salvation, identifies love as the overriding good, provides an example of humility from which many of the most famous representatives of Christianity could learn a lesson, and promotes a personal relationship with Jesus. Not bad for 10 minutes!

The story begins with Barbara standing on the railing of a bridge that spans one of the canals of Milano, Italy. It is obvious she is contemplating jumping to her death. But at just that moment, she is approached by a handsome young man dressed in an Armani jacket. He is wearing a dress shirt but no tie. His shirt is not tucked into his pants, and he has a five o’clock shadow. He asks Barbara what she is doing on the railing. She tells him to go away and leave her alone. But the young man introduces himself to Barbara: “Jesus! You can call me Jesus.”

Barbara is incredulous and tells the young man, “The stage name you’ve chosen for this prank is not funny at all.”

Jesus responds by telling Barbara, “It is not that I call myself Jesus. I AM Jesus.”

At this moment, Jesus invites Barbara to have a cup of coffee with him, and Barbara tells Him that she will give him five minutes—thus, the title of the film. For the next five minutes or so, Barbara and Jesus carry on a conversation, a conversation that reveals much of Christian theology.

I have no idea whether the jacket Jesus is wearing in the film is Armani, but Armani was the only name that came to mind for Italian men’s fashion, and it made for an interesting concept. That Jesus is dressed in a jacket without a tie, however, is important to the film. It indicates Jesus is not someone in a long white robe and beard with bright blue eyes wandering around the Sea of Galilee in a pair of sandals.

By putting Jesus in Armani, the movie indicates that He is much more than the image with which He is often associated. He is, after all, the Son of God, and the Son of God is more than a long-haired Galilean. Because of the way Jesus is dressed, we are invited to think of Him as a universal and timeless being—the Son of God—rather than a particular iconic image to which we may attach greater significance than is warranted.

Although the movie calls on the viewer to think of Jesus as more than the iconic image, this idea is made much more explicit in the 25-minute version of the film.

When Jesus identifies himself to Barbara, she says, “You don’t look like Jesus to me. I don’t see any ‘time machine.’ I see no camels, no Roman soldiers.” She also says, “If you are Him—actually Him—shouldn’t you be at least 2,000 years old?”

And Jesus tells her, “I’ve always been portrayed as tall, handsome … blonde and blue eyes. … [But] if I appeared as I am now in heaven, I think you would be a bit frightened.”

At one point, Barbara tells Jesus that two minutes have passed and that He has only three of the five minutes she’s offered Him left. He says, “Perhaps you have only three to go. I don’t have time limits. Not anymore.”

And, finally, in the longer version, Jesus tells Barbara, “I can’t show you the holes in my hands. … This is not the body I used at the time.”

I think the idea that Jesus is a timeless being—the Son of God—is more subtle in the short version, but the longer version confirms this description of Jesus through the phrases above. The point of portraying Jesus in this way is to get the viewer to move beyond the iconic image. The result is that the viewer realizes the power of God is much greater, infinitely greater, than the power of the iconic image or the biblical image of Jesus.

For Christians, it is important to understand the vastness and timelessness of God, and the movie asks us to do this by looking beyond the icon. Once we look beyond the icon, we find the vast power of God and not merely the power of the moment or the power of a particular icon. At the same time, it is more difficult to conscript the power or sanction of God for one’s own purposes when that power is the vast power of the timeless being than when we turn Jesus into an image of ourselves.

At one point in the second minute of their conversation, Barbara asks Jesus, “That day on the cross … is it all true?” Jesus tells her, “That day in Jerusalem was terrible. What pain! It seemed like it would never end. A soldier even broke his wrist as he was flogging me.”

He goes on to say, “But more than the lashes, nails or the humiliation of hanging in front of everyone like a criminal, I was shattered to see who shouted the insults, lies; who spat upon me, all coming from the very people that I loved so much and continued to love even while they were …”

In just these few short sentences, the movie identifies the pain, both physical and psychological, that Jesus suffered, and thereby the movie identifies the sacrifice Jesus made on behalf of His people, a sacrifice made even greater by the rejection and denial of the very people upon whose behalf Jesus was making the sacrifice.

We discover that God is the Creator of the universe in a little story Jesus tells Barbara to divert the conversation from sad topics. In the third minute of their conversation, Jesus says, “I remember like it was yesterday when my Father and I created the world. As we created an animal, we thought of the faces children would make seeing it. … I must say that the hippopotamus has been a big hit.”

In this very short and gently humorous story, the movie establishes a basic element of Christian theology—that God is the Creator of the universe. It also shows God’s love for children—for all of His children.

I think it is important to remind ourselves that God is the Creator of the universe, as the film does, because as the Creator of the universe, the Creator of everything, much of God is beyond our comprehension, a real mystery. And it is arrogance on our part to claim to know what the Creator of the universe is all about. I think this means that when we claim, for example, “God hates fags,” or, “God has punished Haiti for abandoning Christianity,” we are really creating God in our own image. When we do this, we diminish the power, mystery and awesomeness of God.

If God is the Creator of the universe, as the movie reminds us, then we will have to live with great mystery, with a Being in many ways beyond our comprehension, and we must avoid using God for our own purposes.

After five minutes have passed, Barbara turns to find Jesus now standing on the railing of the bridge where she had stood earlier. It is obvious He is prepared to jump. Barbara shouts, “No! Stop. Don’t do anything stupid.” But Jesus explains, “It’s called substitution. I’ve done it already. Don’t worry, it works. I take on Me all the things that you wanted to kill with yourself, and I kill them with myself. I don’t dislike the idea. Like I said, I did this once already, and if I have to do it again in order to save you … no problem.

“Will I suffer?” Jesus asks. “Maybe. But your life will be saved, purged of sadness, depression, guilt and the rest. You will go back to being the lighthearted girl you were.”

Jesus makes it clear that Barbara’s salvation is a matter of faith, a gift from God, and not something earned by means of action. He says, “You only have to believe it’s true.”

When Barbara asks Jesus what she is to do, he tells her, “Go and live your life. Your faith has finally saved you.” In this brief exchange, Jesus reaffirms what is said in Ephesians 2:9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast” (KJV).

My colleague, Paul Williams, pointed out that in Christian theology, the death and resurrection of Jesus is a singular event. It is not repeated from time to time as the scene mentioned above might suggest. In an interview with the director and screenwriter, the filmmakers acknowledged that the death and resurrection of Jesus were indeed a singular event, but they see salvation–what Barbara is experiencing at this point in the film—as a kind of death and resurrection, the death of the old life or the old ways and a birth into a new life (being born again). They intended the scene above to represent that death and rebirth (what is called in the film “substitution”), not to suggest that Jesus is actually dying for the sins of human beings on an individual basis.

The exchange between Jesus and Barbara discussed above, however, is not only about faith, but also about love. Here Jesus is preparing to die again in order to save Barbara. He did it once already, but He is willing to do it again: “No problem.” As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (15:13). In this Bible passage, Jesus indicates the importance of love in the world, and in the movie, the willingness of Jesus to die again for Barbara brings this importance home to the audience.

When Jesus says He has loved and continues to love those who “shouted insults, lies; who spat upon [Him],” He is indicating both the love He has for His children and the importance of love in general.

But there is another moment in the movie that seems to capture the importance of love as well. In the fourth minute of their conversation, when Barbara is not quite sure this is really Jesus, Jesus pulls from His pocket a picture of Barbara as a child and recounts the events surrounding a moment in her life—a moment only Jesus could know.

After recounting the story of Barbara falling in the bathtub at her Aunt Rosa’s house and almost losing an eye, Jesus says, referring to the picture He has let her hold, “Pardon me. Can I have that back? It is precious to me.” That the picture is precious stands for how precious Barbara herself is to Jesus, and her preciousness is an indication of Jesus’ love for her.

One other element of the film that indicates the importance of love is the song that plays at the end of the film over the credits. The song, “Just As You Are (Cosi Come Sei),” by Nincini, is a song about God’s love for all of His children. One of the lines repeated in the song is “I, I love you as you are.” For those who do not speak Italian, this element of the film might be missed because the song is sung in Italian. But the song is an essential part of the film and must be included as part of the message of the movie.

One of the elements of the film that struck me is the humility of Jesus. I asked Sergio Mascheroni if he intended to show this humility and what in the film was intended to show that humility. He was adamant that he wanted Jesus to be a humble figure in the film. After all, it was Jesus who washed the feet of His disciples. (See John 13:1-17.)

The fact that Jesus is not wearing a tie is of special importance here. Mascheroni told me that if one is wearing a tie in Italian culture, it is a sign of work or business. That Jesus is not wearing a tie makes him “approachable” and thereby open to a more intimate relationship than would be the case if it were a business or professional relationship. The casual dress of Jesus is the only feature of the film that Mascheroni mentioned in relationship to humility, and it is the only feature that I could identify specifically in relationship to humility. The kindness, gentleness, even tenderness of Jesus as He interacts with Barbara, however, also can be taken as signs of the humility of Jesus. Jesus is never the focus of the stories that He tells Barbara. The focus is always upon her, her pain and the possibility of her salvation and the return of her happiness.

I think that we also can point to things that are not in the film as indications of the humility of Jesus. Jesus could have put Himself at the center of the stories He tells, but He does not. Jesus could brag about who He is, but He does not. Jesus could make proclamations about the world, but He does not. Jesus could boast about what He has done, but He does not. Even when Jesus tells the story of creating the hippopotamus, He is not boastful but merely expressing the pleasure He feels at the joy the children experience in seeing the hippopotamus.

There is a sweetness and humility in the Jesus of the movie that stands in marked contrast to some of today’s most visible representatives of Christianity. The Jesus of 5 Minuti is nothing like these highly visible and outspoken representatives of Christianity.

When we try to interpret a film, we usually look at particular features of the film that support a particular interpretation. But we might also, as we did above, ask what is not in the movie. In 5 Minuti, there is no mention of prayer in public schools, no mention of terminating a pregnancy, no mention of homosexuality or same-sex marriage, no mention of using tax dollars to send children to religious schools, and no mention of posting the Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall or placing them in public parks.

The Jesus of 5 Minuti has nothing to say about these hot-button issues that consume so much of the religio-political debate, at least in the United States. Come to think of it, the Jesus of the Bible does not have anything to say on these topics, either. Probably the closest Jesus comes to saying something about religio-political topics comes in Mark 12:17, where He says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Finally, at the end of the scene where Jesus stands on the bridge offering to die again for Barbara, Barbara reaches out her hand to Jesus and we see Him take her hand in His. Deborah Brown told me in an email that as director, “That was the first image that came to me as I planned the film. We were very conscious of the image portrayed. … Unlike Michelangelo’s image on the Sistine Chapel, where man is reaching out to touch the finger of God, I wanted to show that in Christ, we can reach out and grasp the hand of the very real Savior.”

The relationship between Barbara and Jesus as He takes her hand is both real and personal. It is not an abstraction in the way that the relationship between God and man is in the Sistine Chapel. Clearly, the personal relationship with Jesus is, for Brown, an important element of Christianity. The idea suggested by Sergio Mascheroni that because Jesus does not wear a tie, He is approachable and someone with whom you can have an intimate relationship also provides evidence of the importance of the personal relationship with Jesus. The personal relationship is also suggested by Jesus in the 25-minute version of the film when He says, “It’s absurd for people to kneel before an image of me, when they can approach the real me.”

Given the various and interesting features of this film, there is something that seems to transcend each of these. In the end, the movie seems to promote two seemingly contradictory ideas about God. The first is that God is a timeless being, the Creator of the universe, and as such is very much beyond human understanding. God is a vast power and a great mystery. God is not made in man’s image. God is not the petty being we so often describe when we use God for our own purposes. There is something awesome about God.

The second idea is that we can have a personal, intimate, day-to-day relationship with Jesus. Here there is nothing abstract about God. Jesus is someone with whom we can have a personal relationship. As Jesus says in the 25-minute version of the film, “Why kneel before an image, when you can have the real thing?”

While it may seem contradictory to think of God as both beyond our comprehension and the other in a personal, intimate relationship, this is the message of Christianity. Christianity offers us a personal, individual, real relationship with God, but a God that is beyond all understanding. And this is a feature of Christianity that 5 Minuti expresses clearly.

Source. CHARISMA NEWS.


Dr. William L. Blizek is professor of philosophy and religion and founding editor of The Journal of Religion and Film at University of Nebraska at Omaha. This article is reprinted by permission from theJournal of Religion and Film 11/15/2010, Department of Philosophy and Religion, University of Nebraska at Omaha Volume 14, Number 2 (October 2010). Click here to read this article on Movieguide.org.

Finnish Pastor Tells Congregation to ‘Get Into the Bible’.


Pastor Shaun Rossi
Pastor Shaun Rossi (OM)

Running into a pastor who tells his congregation to “get into the Bible” is not something that happens daily in postmodern Finland. Add to that a congregation that takes time to memorize Scripture, and you have a rare combination.

Yet against all odds, what we find at United Community Church (UCC) in the capital area of Helsinki is exactly that.

According to UCC pastor and OMer Shaun Rossi, the church has “held a pattern of preaching expositionally through the Bible” throughout its history. Planted in 2007, UCC is an international English-speaking church ministering to both Finns and foreigners living in Finland. Rossi wants people to know Christ and to learn to trust and depend on Him.

“I suppose many think that to be relevant today, you must water down the truth of God’s Word,” Rossi says. “We decided we would speak the Bible for what it is to the best of our ability—really, what else do we have to give people?”

In addition to Sunday preaching, the Bible is being taught in what UCC calls “growth classes.” These Monday night classes are divided into three six-week segments that cover topics from Christian doctrine to world missions. Through these classes, people have learned to go to the Bible themselves.

“We have seen people respond with a real hunger for more and more,” Rossi explains.

Are You Reading the Bible?

When he was a new believer, Rossi read and studied a lot of theology. Then a good friend noticed that while Rossi was reading a lot about the Bible, he didn’t spend much time reading the Bible itself.

“He called me out, asking whether I was reading the Bible regularly,” Rossi recalls, and he admitted he wasn’t. He felt “a gentle conviction” and began to read the Bible daily, a habit that has since been “pretty consistent with the occasional lull.”

Rossi wants to lead by setting an example. He believes Christian books and Internet sermons can be beneficial but insists that the real question is whether or not you are reading the Bible.

“For me, reading the Bible is not about wanting instant help,” he says. “I think many are deterred from reading the Bible because they want all of their questions and problems answered during their morning devotions. For me, the real fruit of Bible reading can be seen in looking back over the years and seeing how the Word has strengthened and molded me and been a source of grace in my life.”

Investing in Christian Men

An information technology project manager by profession, Rob Curtis is in charge of men’s ministry at UCC. He believes “spiritual growth doesn’t just happen.” Rather, churches have to invest in it in order to see change.

According to Curtis, churches in the West have been “spoon-feeding” Christians for decades. The result is “large chunks of Christian generations feeling ill-equipped and inadequate” to evangelize, lead family devotions or have “anything that even vaguely resembles a daily walk with God,” Curtis says.

“Young Christians need to be taught God’s Word and how to use it and live by it themselves,” he continues. Curtis wants to be a catalyst, rocking the boat and stirring things up.

“Telling people the truth comes easily to me,” he admits. “However, it only helps if you love the person with the love that God has put inside you. You can’t pass something on that you don’t have. I need to be living out a fresh, daily relationship with God myself. That is the greatest challenge, and it is only doable by walking humbly before God.”

Finding Answers

A few years ago, Minni Suova, a fashion designer from Helsinki, became curious about the Bible and decided to join a friend’s Bible study group. She was not attending a church at the time. However, what she learned through the Bible study started affecting her thinking.

“All those passages about the church being important—if I wanted to take what I was reading seriously, I had to find myself a church,” Suova recalls.

She came to UCC to visit and never went anywhere else.

“Why keep looking?” she asks. “I feel at home here, and besides, no church will ever be perfect and meet all of my requirements. By committing to this church, I can grow and help others to grow as well.”

Today, Suova serves as the missions coordinator at UCC. “I was never particularly interested in missions,” she admits. “But the position needed to be filled, the work needed to be done, and there I was. Why not take the job?”

“Sometimes we spend too much time trying to figure out what our calling is,” she adds. “Maybe I wasn’t so interested in missions before. Now I am. I have found my place in the church.”

Minni still attends the same Bible study. The group consists of women from different church backgrounds. While their theological stances vary, they all share a genuine desire to know God’s Word.

“We go through the Bible book by book,” Suova shares. “I’m in a habit of getting stuck on hard questions, which I can’t let go of until I understand what the Bible says about them. The group has walked with me and helped me find answers.”

Joy Through Challenges

A student of theology and tourism, Satu Kolehmainen started attending UCC three years ago. Last year, she lived through a personal crisis that saw her relationship with Jesus change dramatically.

“I had been a listener rather than a doer,” Kolehmainen explains, referring to James 1:22, which says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (NIV).

“But then God allowed such challenges and trials in my life that I had to depend on Him,” she says.

In the midst of the challenges, Kolehmainen started reading the Bible in a new way. Pastor Rossi advised her to meditate God’s Word. That prompted her to memorize Scripture verses, which she then repeated silently, over and over again.

“At first I didn’t feel anything,” Kolehmainen recalls. “I was simply putting together a collection of comforting passages.”

But soon the words started molding and changing her. She clung to God’s promises, and slowly but surely those promises started becoming true.

“My life in Christ is no longer about achievement,” Kolehmainen says. “Now it’s about having a relationship with Him.”

Today, bursting with joy and excitement, Kolehmainen believes God allows us to sometimes face challenges simply because we need to realize how much we need Jesus. And it’s easy to believe what she says—her eyes twinkle, and one can almost touch the joy radiating from her.

Like Kolehmainen, many at UCC have found that God’s Word is truth, indeed.

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

Giving to Receive Defeats the Purpose of the Passion.


Giving-money-receive© Chernetskaya | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Overhearing other people’s conversations can be dangerous! I stood in our church office and overheard someone talking about our benevolence giving.

“But is it reaping a return? Do any of these people ever come back and be part of the church?”

That short moment of eavesdropping changed how I view life and church. Do you give in order to receive?

We are all guilty of it. We work hard all week, but if all we get are negative reviews, we feel cheated and let down; or we stay with a family because it is our job, and hope that when this crisis is over they will become stalwart members of the congregation. We give to a woman in need and then feel let down when she doesn’t bring her kids on Sunday.

Giving isn’t the problem. We need to give as God calls us. Hoping that people will become more involved in church and intimate with God is also right. But connecting the two—giving in order to get—doesn’t work.

Imagine Jesus hanging on the cross—not so He could pave the way for God to reach into humanity, dwell with humanity permanently in the form of His Spirit (giving to open relationship and give more); but so that we would want to spend more time trying to find God (giving to get). That wouldn’t have worked.

As you walk through this Passion Week, I want to encourage you—God didn’t call you expecting from you—He wants to work through you. Here are some things to consider:

  • If people don’t show up to every event, cheer them on for choosing family and relationships over ritual. (You will surprise them.)
  • Ask people what they’ve heard from God lately instead of congratulating them for the good choice of coming to church on Easter (or pointing out that you’ve missed them the rest of the year).
  • Find ways to remind people that God is currently active in their lives, even if they don’t “get” church.
  • Relax. This is a long week in our tradition, and it was an even longer week when Jesus walked it the first time. Look for Jesus in the surprising places. Is He teaching in Starbucks? Walking down Main Street? Take a moment to listen to what He is saying in these public places. When people show up on Sunday, your words will make a deep impact—because they are God’s.

God really is active in the world today. He is drawing people to Himself. It might look like they come to church to get immediate needs filled and then walk away, but they could have chosen the Rotary Club or Social Services. Sometimes they choose the church because we are an “easy mark” (thus the need for good policies)—but every encounter they have with you is one they are having with Jesus. He is drawing them, He is working in them.

Think about the boy with the lunch. He gave what he had and saw Jesus turn it into a bountiful harvest. This week, I encourage you to give God’s love with an open hand and watch Him do mighty miracles.

Written by Kim Martinez

Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a Masters of Theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach, and can be found online at www.deepimprints.com. She writes a weekly column for ministrytodaymag.com.

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