Oct 26, 2011

Redeeming Halloween, Osteen Does It Again, and more links...

Here are some interesting links you might want to read. 

Halloween on Mission - Awesome post by David Mathis from Desiring God on redeeming Halloween for the gospel.  Too often we live in hiding and seclusion instead of living boldly on mission.  The effect of this is that we create an isolationist mentality which makes us inaccessible to the lost and ineffective in evangelism.  You don't have to agree with this post, but it does make some great points. 

Does Joel Osteen not know, or does he not care? -Smiling Joel was asked once again to make a stand on a controversial topic and once again he chose the path of popular opinion than that of biblical authority.  By his own admission, he "hasn't studied" the issues of Momonism and Christianity.  My advice: Don't make a statement then Joel. 

Reformation Day: What in the world happened? - Great post by my friend and seminary classmate Dr. Jason Lee about the impact of Martin Luther and the Reformation started by his 95 theses.  Great information that most lay people in the church have no knowledge of.

How to articulate a Christian worldview in four easy steps - Kevin DeYoung is a very smart young pastor who does a great job keeping people grounded in biblical theology and practical living.  Every Christian should be able to articulate a Christian worldview, but so often cannot.  This post will help.

Seven reasons Halloween Judgment Houses often miss the mark - I have been on record before that I am not a big fan of the Judgment House mentality in churches.  I think the motives are pure and the churches that do them really do want to see people come to faith in Christ.  I also think that some people are genuinely saved in them.  However, I don't think they accurately convey the gospel and are just a 21st century answer to hellfire and brimstone revivalism.

Oct 21, 2011

Be gospel-centered and don't neglect...

Great video featuring three young gospel saturated pastors - Trevin Wax, J.D. Greear, and Greg Gilbert.  Good words that we need to hear.

Don't Be More Gospel-Centered Than Jesus from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Oct 19, 2011

Where Has Oprah Taken Us? - A Book Review

Recently I received a copy of Stephen Mansfield's new book "Where Has Oprah Taken Us? The Religious Influence of the World's Most Famous Woman."  I was excited about the opportunity to read this book.  For a long time, I have been very concerned about the deep influence that Oprah has had in our culture and her dangerous spiritual beliefs.  I was not a regular watcher of Oprah's show.  However, the few times I did watch it, I could see why she was so popular.  She has an engaging personality that draws you in.  She is a rags-to-riches story.  She is not afraid to tell you about her baggage and how she's working through it.  At the same time, she has made no apologies for her religious beliefs.  She has stated more than once that she thinks it's arrogant for Christians to believe that Jesus is the only way to God.  She has held some very troubling New Age religious beliefs under a veil of the appearance of Christianity.

Mansfield's book is a timely read.  It will probably trouble many who call themselves Christians who have given Oprah a pass for a long time.  However, Mansfield is very fair in his portrayal and crituque of Oprah and her religious beliefs.  He praises her for her benevolent work around the world.  He vividly paints a good picture of the painful situation that Oprah was raised in.  He has done his homework both on Oprah's biographical past and on the troubling religious transformation she went through before her audience's eyes.  He has shown how, through shifting cultural influences and timing, Oprah rose from media personnel to someone who has had religious influence in our culture that closely resembles that of Billy Graham, the Pope, and Rick Warren.  It's a telling and troubling fact that someone who holds no formal religious study has in many ways become a religious guru for millions of people, especially women.

While painting a detailed expression of Oprah's widely diverse religious influences, Mansfield also does a good job bringing solid, biblical truth to counteract those beliefs.  He leads the reader to understand the implications of Oprah's beliefs on society and how those same beliefs diverge from Scripture and orthodox Christian teaching.  He also asks serious questions that force the reader to see beyond the surface of Oprah's beliefs into the deeper ramifications.  In each chapter he also has an aside where he interjects his own personal beliefs and critique.  In doing so, he keeps most of his opinions out of the regular material and maintains the fair, impartial, and helpful reporting of an author of his stature.

I would highly recommend this read to most Christians, especially laypeople.  There are millions of people in the church who have been poisoned by Oprah's deadly religious mix and need to step back and see through a biblical lens what she really believes.  This is not a character assassination on Oprah - far from it.  It is a book that shows the powerful and helpful influence she has had while questioning the religious dogma she has espoused for the last two decades.  If you're an Oprah fan, give this book a fair reading and see where you may have been influenced.  If you are not an Oprah fan, read it and equip yourself to have an honest, helpful dialogue with those who are.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Oct 18, 2011

The Power of an Unexpected Blessing

A few weeks ago I had the unique privilege of being invited to take part in a small pastor's retreat with Bob Russell.  Bob (we're on a first name basis now) was the pastor of Southeast Christian Church for over 40 years.  When he went there as a young man in his 20's the church was just a few hundred.  When he retired a few years ago, it was one of the largest churches in America, averaging over 18,000 people each weekend.  When Bob retired, he had some people who wanted to fund his ministry dreams and goals.  One of those was to hold private retreats for pastors where he could minister and pour into a small group of pastors at a time.

I had applied over a year ago and was extremely excited when I got the invitation to go.  What an honor and privilege to be invited to spend three days with a faithful servant of the Lord who did it the right way for over 40 years.  God used Bob's ministry and preaching to literally change the lives of thousands of people.  However, he was an extremely humble and joyful man who seemed to be loving getting to spend time with 8 pastors that for the most part no one has ever heard of.  He shared some painful moments in his ministry and valuable lessons he learned.  It was truly a once-in-a lifetime experience.  Here are a few takeaways I had from the week:

1.  When you cultivate a generous heart you are able to be a blessing and be blessed at the same time.  Bob Russell gave us dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, set up a private time with the CEO of Louisville Slugger, and even gave our wives a generous gift.  What a refreshment to see someone who wants to give away to make others feel appreciated and valuable.
2.  There is no substitute for cultivating a servant spirit in your church.  Southeast Christian Church is a very unique place.  My sanctuary can fit under their driveway.  The lobby is big enough to play a football game in.  The worship center can seat 9,000 people.  However, all of their landscaping is done by volunteers in the church.  Much of their setup for events is handled by volunteers.  The people of the church who helped Bob with the retreat were some of the most gracious servants I have ever encountered.  They really thought it a blessing to be able to serve pastors by carrying our luggage or by driving us to events.
3.  There is no substitute for godly lay leadership.  We had the opportunity to spend time with three elders of Southeast who talked about pastor/elder relationships.  These three men have been elders at Southeast for a long time.  Each of them were very successful businessmen and entreprenuers.  However, they also were men of great spiritual wisdom and the Word.  They showed the power that can happen in a church where men step up to be students of the word and lead the church spiritually.  This is no doubt one of the biggest reasons for the success that Southeast Christian has had in reaching people. 
4.  Preach the Bible and let God do the work.  This was one of the statements that Bob Russell made and perfectly sums up his preaching and ministry philosophy.  Russell's ministry shows the lasting impact that can be made when a preacher believes in the authority and sufficiency of God's word and chooses to rely on the power of the word preached over slick ministry strategies.  It was a great encouragement to me.  There is no guarantee of large numerical success in preaching biblically, but there is assurance of its power to change lives and build a healthy foundation for a church.
5.  Multiply your ministry effectiveness by investing in future ministers.  This is where Bob Russell is now.  As a faithful pastor for decades, he's earned the right to spend his days playing golf, going on occasional mission trips, speaking at conferences, and writing books.  However, Bob has chosen to spend some of that time pouring into guys that are in the trenches.  It doesn't matter where at or what size church.  In our group, we had churches ranging from 200 to 3500.  We had pastors from the Christian Church movement, a Wesleyan, Church of Christ, and one SBC (me).  A couple of guys were in their 50's, a couple in their 40's, and a couple in their 30's.  We were all much the richer for spending time with Bob and with each other.

All in all, my heart was blessed and I was impacted beyond measure for my time with Bob Russell.  It gave me a renewed vision for what could be possible at my church and a renewed passion to preach God's word with passion and application oto God's people.