Thirteen Issues for Churches in 2013

13-issuesThom Ranier has a fascinating post at his blog today entitled Thirteen Issues For Churches in 2013. will face in 2013. He deals with issues 1-6 today and will post the next seven issues in two days.

In today’s post Ranier opines that in 2013 we will see:

1) The impact of the “nones” – The percentage of the U.S. population that claims no religious affiliation increased from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012.

2) Migration back to small groups – I’m thrilled when I read this. Ranier has some good thoughts about this. He writes, “There is an increasing awareness that those who are in groups have a higher level of commitment in almost all areas of church life.”

3) Accelerated closing of churches – Ranier predicts that 8,000-10,000 churches could close their doors for good in 2013.

4) More churches moving to multiple venues – Ranier writes, ” the number of congregations moving to multiple venues is staggering. Indeed that issue may be the single greatest distinguishing factor in growing churches.”

5) The growth of prayer emphasis in local congregations – This one thrills my soul as well. I believe that God loves when we move from being human-centered to God-dependent. It’s so easy to try to do things our way expecting things to happen on our timetables in church. When we sincerely seek God’s direction, His wisdom, and His timing, He has room to work.

6) Fickle commitment – Ranier has some interesting thoughts on the low commitment level of the American church.

These are interesting thoughts. I’m looking forward to reading his other seven issues for the church in 2013. Care to guess what some might be? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

“Surely I Am Coming Soon!”

024Yesterday, I preached a message at Woodbury Community Church entitled, “The End is Only the Beginning.” It was the conclusion of our year long series “The Challenge,” in which our congregation was encouraged to read through the Bible in a year. Today, many of the people in our congregation are finishing their year of Bible reading with the last chapters of Revelation, including Revelation 22:20, which says:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The last five words of Jesus recorded in the Bible are, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Jesus actually says, “I am coming soon,” three times in the last chapter of the Bible (Revelation 22:7, 12, and 20).

I am convinced that Jesus doesn’t make mistakes. He wants us to understand that our lives are to be lived in light of the fact that He is coming back one day for His bride. Our job is to be ready. We are to live our lives with eternity in mind.

I closed yesterday’s sermon with a video illustration from Right Now Media entitled, “Are You a Trader.” I promised to put that video on this blog. In the coming weeks we are going to be examining what it means to live the blessed life. That life cannot happen until we trade the “American Dream,” for the life that God dreams of for us.

Here is the sermon that I preached yesterday:

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The View from Bethlehem’s Manger

Happy Christmas Eve!

This evening at Woodbury Community Church it was my blessing to present the drama, The View from Bethlehem’s Manger. 

Here is a recording of that drama. Enjoy! And may you have a blessed Christmas.

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The Blessed Life

The_Blessed_Life_Series_-_Banner_Graphic_1_preview_587x327In January, I’ll be preaching a new series at Woodbury Community Church entitled, The Blessed Life. As we near Christmas, one of the things that I continually notice is that everyone is looking for happiness. If happiness was a product that could be purchased and given to someone as a gift under a tree, then whoever sold that product would be the wealthiest person on planet earth.

Pursuing happiness takes work. It’s tough to find and even harder to hold. Ever want more than that for your life? God does. He wants us to be blessed. Discover what the Bible says about living The Blessed Life.

January 6 – A Heart of Generosity

January 13 – The Blessed Test

January 20 – The Generous Eye

January 27 – The Heart of Serving

Lifechurch.tv has provided the graphics and videos for this series. I’m grateful for their ministry and heartbeat for giving their resources away to other churches for free.

How Corrupt Is Your Country?

CorruptCountriesSeveral are blogging about this today. Transparency International just published their annual list of the perceived level of corruption in the governments of 176 nations around the world.

Our recent trip to Haiti revealed that many of the problems within the country stem from a corrupt government. The nation has not experienced a healthy government, perhaps ever. It is sad that Haiti experienced it’s greatest prosperity while underneath an oppressive dictatorship, and that the resulting coups and hopes of a democracy have only brought about corruption. There were 19 presidential candidates in the last election. Haiti is a divided country.

Today, Somalia is the most corrupt nation in the world. Many of my Somali friends dream of one day returning to their nation, but cannot as long as the corruption exists. International aid, meant to help those experiencing the worst famine on earth today often doesn’t get to the intended recipients because of governmental corruption.

North Korea is perhaps the most closed country in the world. The stories of the atrocities committed against the citizens of the nation by the government are heart-breaking. Many nations are on edge as they see North Korea’s government continue to experiment with long range missiles capable of carrying biological or nuclear warheads.

Woodbury Community Church has a special relationship with many refugee families who have fled the persecution of Myanmar’s government. Over the past three years we have teamed up with Refugee Life Ministries of World Relief Minnesota and brought precious families from this country to the Twin Cities. (In 2012 Myanmar moved up two spots as the government began to open up relationships with other nations, even prompting a visit from President Obama. This was the first visit of a sitting U.S. President to Myanmar. For more information on Woodbury Community Church’s refugee life ministry click here).

When I look at this list, and when I think of Christmas, I am reminded of the fact that one of the names of Jesus is that he is our Prince of Peace. The Messiah, Emmanuel  God with Us comes to bring peace between man and God. I’ve often times said that the answer for America or any other country isn’t the government, it is the church of Jesus Christ, standing up and being counted as His hands in feet in our generation. It would be nice to have Christ followers serving the public good in governments all over the world. But, it’s never going to happen in some countries. In our own nation, we have seen that just being a Christian in the government doesn’t solve the greatest needs of humanity  Christ’s answer was never government. It was the church, pointing people to the Savior of the world.

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus said:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

May you live as salt and light today!

For more information on this study, check out the Washington Post’s article here.

You can read Ed Stetzer’s thoughts about this information and some expanded views on the Pew Forum’s recent look at the Global Religious Landscape here.

 

The Story of a Ministry and the Internet

phone-with-apps1I love the days that we live in! We have opportunities in 2012 to impact culture with the Gospel unlike any time in the history of the world. This morning I watched a video from Desiring God Ministries that touched my soul. It’s the story of a bi-vocational pastor in Massachusetts who caught a vision for how the Internet could be used to impact culture at the front end of the World Wide Web.

There are several things that moved me about the story:

1) The bi-vocational pastor’s conviction that ministries shouldn’t charge for the Gospel.

2) The humility of the bi-vocational pastor, in working so hard to get another pastor’s sermons out to the masses.

3) The way the Internet has changed what tools are available to believers seeking to grow in their walk with Christ. There is a point where the pastor talks about Charles Spurgeon’s sermons being about all that was available to the masses for free at the time the Internet began to be embraced. Now there are thousands of ministries/churches offering their sermons for free.

4) God’s unique anointing on individuals. It is amazing how many people that God has reached through the faithful ministry of one person. This story is repeated over and over again in the lives of individuals all over the world. Ask John Piper, Billy Graham, Beth Moore, Louie Giglio, Andy Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, etc. if they ever dreamed that they would be used the way that God has chosen to use them and I suspect that they would answer, “No.” How God works through people is an amazing and beautiful thing. I’m grateful to be a small part of His story and pray that He will continue to use me and the people in my life in wonderful ways too.

Here is the story of a web pioneer’s wild dream.

A Web Pioneer’s Wild Dream from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Do you have some great stories of how you have used the Internet to make an impact for Christ?

How Is Your Church Influencing Culture?

table-plugDallas Theological Seminary has a fantastic new podcast that pastors and church leaders ought to be listening to. On December 18, Andy Crouch, Andy Siedel, and Darrell Bock recorded a conversation about how the church impacts culture. If you are a church leader, I want to encourage you to take about 45 minutes to watch two podcasts entitled Culture Making and Creativity. The Seminary has done a good job dividing these into two different segments so that you can watch it in two settings.

The podcasts center around these questions:

What is culture?

How are “things,” not just ideas and thoughts, part of “culture making?”

What results or effects do we experience from “culture making?”

What is the importance of service when engaging in culture?

How are “things,” not just ideas and thoughts, part of “culture making?”

How should the knowledge of “culture making” affect the teaching/communication of pastors and the actions of those in the secular world?

How can we see culture in ways unlike ever before?

For leaders, how should the idea of “culture making” affect how you lead?

You can link to the podcasts here.

Learning New Things About Christmas

The First ChristmasI’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long time now. My journey of faith began as a child, and it was as a four-year-old boy that I prayed and asked Jesus to be my Savior. I grew up in a church-going family. So, from the time I was an infant, I was in church. That means that in my 43 years of life I have heard (and in recent years, I have preached) a number of sermons about Christmas.

When people ask me about the toughest sermons to preach, I almost always respond that  Christmas and Easter sermons are the most difficult to prepare. These two holidays come  every year and it can sometimes be tough to come up with fresh ideas and insights into the familiar and wonderful stories of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.

I have to say that I am energized about preaching on Christmas this year. One of the reasons is that I’m learning so many new things about Christmas. On Christmas Eve, I’ll be preaching a dramatic monologue sermon. My sermon will come from the perspective of Bethlehem’s innkeeper. In preparation I’ve been reading an old book that I found at a used bookstore several years ago. It’s a book entitled, The First Christmas, by Rev. Denis O’Shea. It was published in 1952 by The Bruce Publishing Company in Milwaukee.

I’m enjoying the book for several reasons.

1) It was written by a Catholic priest. I’m Protestant. That means that my views on who Mary is are very different than O’Shea’s. So, I’m forced to read this book critically. Seeing things from a perspective radically different than mine is a sharpening process.

2) It was written in 1952. This was shortly after Israel was resettled by the Jewish people. The historical context of this book is fascinating. The illustrations that are used about what the Holy Land was like in the 1950’s make me wish I could have seen it then. I’m reading a section about the Samaritan people, and at the time only 260 were living in Palestine. O’Shea had visited with the present High Priest of the Samaritans and the information written about that encounter is fascinating.

3) Like William Barclay, one of my favorite New Testament commentators, O’Shea writes from the perspective of a historian. (If you want to read great stuff on the times of the Bible read any of Barclay’s commentaries.) The quoting of ancient historians, the visuals that he paints about what houses, inns, roads, landscape, food, clothes, animals, etc. were like in the days surrounding Christ’s birth are fascinating. He also does a great job painting a picture of the geo-political culture of the day. Understanding how Herod achieved his position, the world of Caesar Augustus, what a census involved, and why the Jewish people were required to go to the land of their ancestors to register is fascinating. I felt that I could picture the abodes of the first century world, and the inns that Mary and Joseph would have stopped at on their route from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

There is so much more that I could say. Again, there is a lot that I would disagree with in this book, particularly O’Shea’s insistence that Mary was a perpetual virgin. But, all-in-all this book has opened my eyes and my mind to see things I’ve never seen before about Christmas. I can’t wait to share them in the form of a drama on Christmas Eve.

If you are in town, I’d love to have you join us for Christmas Eve services at Woodbury Community Church at 5 or 7 PM. I hope the sermon will be something that you’ll be talking about for a long time.

What is something new that you’ve learned about Christmas this year?

What Would You Do If You Had Only Months Left To Live?

Zach Sobiech is a young man in my son Chris’ class at Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota. He is a senior and this past May he found out that he has only months left to live. I’m told that Zach has one of the most positive attitudes towards life that most of his friends have ever met. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he is choosing to embrace the joy in each day.

Zach is a musician and recently wrote a song entitled, Clouds. He performed the song at Coffee House, a benefit concert at Stillwater High School to raise money so that Zach could enjoy his last months. He gave half of the money to cancer research!

Clouds went on YouTube on December 5, 2012, and in just 12 days it has received over 412,200 views. He is hoping to hit 1,000,000 views before he dies. Will you help him make it? Check out his inspiring song, and then answer the question, “What would you do if you had only months left to live?”

The song is also available on iTunes.