So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Current NIV: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.
TNIV (2005): No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. [identical to NIVI (1996)]
NLT:For people can't come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them from the dead.
ESV: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Change in meaning: There is a loss of clear emphasis on the Father drawing an individual person. “Them” seems to be plural here, referring to a group. It is an incorrect translation of the third-person singular Greek pronoun autos...
Current NIV: Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life. . . .
TNIV (2005): Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life . . . . [identical to NIVI (1996)]
ESV: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
NLT: God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
Change in meaning: TNIV removes the example of a single “blessed man” who perseveres under trial and changes it to a group: “those” and “they.” The focus on God’s blessing on an individual believer is removed. The TNIV pictures a group under trial and suggests that reward waits until “they” all have stood the test. “Those” is an incorrect translation of the singular Greek word aner, which means “man,” not “person,” and certainly not “those.”
Read this Article: "World Magazine"Compare Versions @ BibleGateway.com
Friday, February 17, 2006
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
So, who are these priests…?
“And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.”
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
Then, how are we made clean…?
Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
“I will put my trust in him.”
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. herefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
And, some more…
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Ten ways Old Testament believers experienced the Holy Spirit which in these "last days" of Pentecostal fulfillment ought to be enjoyed by the church.
- The Creator and Sustainer of their natural life. (Job 33:4)
- The new birth and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. ( John 3:10)
- The constant presence of God's Spirit. (Psalm 139:7-10)
- As their Counselor or Teacher. (Nehemiah 9)
- Craftsmanship and artistic ability in the service of God was a gift of the Holy Spirit. (Exodus 31:1-5)
- The filling of the Holy Spirit as a power to be bold in denouncing evil and declaring righteousness. (Micah 3:8)
- Victory over fear by the presence of the Spirit. (Zechariah 4:6)
- Extraordinary feats of power (Judges 14:6)
- To interpret God's revelation in dreams. (Acts 2:17)
- A gift of prophecy (Numbers 11:25)
February 19, 1984
The difference between a historian and a preacher is that the historian says, "Was it so?" and the preacher says, "So what?" I took a course in seminary on the Old Testament wisdom literature where we talked about Hebrew poetic parallelism and determinism and HeilesgeschichteGod's sake. "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). And I can't help but think that knowledge for its own sake or art for arts' sake is a very callous and unloving motto. Surely for a Christian all study and all creative work must justify itself in terms of love. "Let all things be done for edification" (1 Cor. 14:26). "Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Cor. 16:13). Learning and labor which do not lead people in love to God are not prompted by the Spirit of Christ. ("salvation history") and I would generally raise my hand at the end of class and say, "So what?" I never have believed in knowledge for its own sake or art for arts' sake. Such notions have always struck me as profoundly atheistic. Surely for a Christian the only reason to study or be artistic is for
So when I pose myself a question like, How did believers experience the Holy Spirit before Pentecost? I can't think about it more than five minutes without saying, "So what?" Does anybody care? Would it make any difference for our lives today if we knew the answer? I think it will make a difference. I wouldn't bother with the question if I didn't. I want to show you ten ways the Old Testament saints experienced the Holy Spirit. But first let me tell you why I think it is so relevant.
Pentecost was a Jewish festival fifty days after the Passover. Jesus was crucified during the Passover celebration. Seven weeks later, on the day of Pentecost, the risen Lord Jesus fulfilled the promise he had made in John 15:26—namely, that he would send the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist had promised: The one who comes after me "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16). So at 9:00 on Pentecost morning, while the disciples were praying, "a sound came from heaven like a rush of mighty wind … and there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:2-4). Then Peter preached a sermon and said, "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel, 'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams …"' (Acts 2:16-17). In other words, Peter says, we have entered the last days: the Messiah has come, he has accomplished redemption on the cross, he has risen and ascended to the right hand of God, and the interval before he returns in glory will be marked by an incomparable outpouring of the Holy Spirit on men and women, old and young, slave and free, near and far. And the people of God in this period are to be a people born of the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit to bear witness to "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ." We live in the latter days of the Spirit. We live in the days that Isaiah (44:3) and Ezekiel (11:19; 36:26f; 39:29) and Joel (2:28) prophesied and longed to see. There are no more decisive turning points in redemptive history that must happen before Jesus returns to establish his kingdom. This is it. These are the days of Pentecost, the days of the fullness of the Spirit, the days of worldwide mission.
Now let me suggest an analogy to illustrate the experience of the Spirit before and after Pentecost. Picture a huge dam for hydroelectric power under construction, like the Aswan High Dam on the Nile, 375 feet high and 11,000 feet across. Egypt's president Nasser announced the plan for construction in 1953. The dam was completed in 1970 and in 1971 there was a grand dedication ceremony and the 12 turbines with their ten billion kilowatt-hour capacity were unleashed with enough power to light every city in Egypt. During the long period of construction the Nile River wasn't completely stopped. Even as the reservoir was filling part of the river was allowed to flow past. The country folk downstream depended on it. They drank it, they washed in it, it watered their crops and turned their mill-wheels. They sailed on it in the moonlight and wrote songs about it. It was their life. But on the day when the reservoir poured through the turbines a power was unleashed that spread far beyond the few folk down river and brought possibilities they had only dreamed of.
Well, Pentecost is like the dedicatory opening of the Aswan High Dam. Before Pentecost the river of God's Spirit blessed the people of Israel and was their very life. But after Pentecost the power of the Spirit spread out to light the whole world. None of the benefits enjoyed in the pre-Pentacostal days were taken away. But ten billion kilowatts were added to enable the church to take the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ to every tongue and tribe and nation.
So here's my answer to why the experience of the Old Testament saints is valuable for us today. If these saints experienced privileges and powers in the Holy Spirit before the dam was opened, how much more should we in these billion kilowatt days experience these things or more. A survey of Old Testament spiritual experience is needed to wake us up to our privileges in these last days that were inaugurated at Pentecost. The church today is so sleepy that some of us have even fallen behind the Old Testament saints in our appropriation of what the Spirit has to give.
So here are ten ways Old Testament believers experienced the Holy Spirit which in these "last days" of Pentecostal fulfillment ought to be enjoyed by the church.
First, and most basic, the O.T. believers were conscious of God's Spirit as the Creator and Sustainer of their natural life. In Job 33:4 Elihu speaks for all faithful Jews when he says, "The Spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." Psalm 104 celebrates the wonder and variety of all living things and says (vv. 29-30), "When thou takest away their breath they die and return to their dust. When thou sendest forth thy Spirit they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground."
I hope you share this world view with the O.T. saints: namely, that your conception as a person in your mother's womb was a sovereign act of creation by God's Spirit and that every breath you take now and every chemical transaction in the cells of your body is sustained every moment by work of the Holy Spirit. The world we grew up in and live in does not see things this way. And we have by and large absorbed their mechanistic view of things. The world sees a mechanical process of evolution and natural selection. But the Christian ought to see the creative, imaginative work of God's Spirit. And every breath you take ought to be a prayer of thanks that you live and move and have your being in the Spirit of God.
Second, the O.T. believers experienced the new birth and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When Nicodemus was bewildered about Jesus' demand for new birth by the Spirit Jesus responded (John 3:10), "Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand this?" In other words, I'm not teaching or requiring anything new. Any Israelite who has ever been saved had to be born again by God's Spirit. Otherwise how would they ever overcome their natural hostility to God? How could they have ever submitted to God's law and pleased him—as many did, like Abel and Noah and Abraham and Moses and Rahab and Ruth and Deborah and David? Paul says in Romans 8:7-9, "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed, it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God really dwells in you." There are two groups of humans: those in the flesh (born of the flesh) and those in the Spirit (born again of the Spirit). Those in the flesh are devoid of the Spirit and cannot submit to God's law or please God. Those in the Spirit are indwelt by the Spirit and are enabled by him to fulfill the just requirement of the law.
This means that all the saints of the O.T. who trusted God and followed his ways in the obedience of faith were born again by the Spirit and indwelt by the Spirit. For example, Numbers 14:24 says of Caleb, "My servant Caleb, because he has a different Spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into this land." And Numbers 27: 18 says, "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Take Joshua the son of Nun in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand upon him …"' The O.T. believers were saved the same way we are: they were born of the Spirit, they trusted in God's promises, and they followed his commandments in the obedience of faith.
Third, the O.T. believers enjoyed the constant presence of God's Spirit. Psalm 139:7-10 says, "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol thou art there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me." Old Testament believers enjoyed the presence of God's Spirit wherever they went. It gives me a lot of encouragement, when I am called to go places where I feel insecure, to know that the Spirit is within to give me the words I need and that he is also already in the place where I am going to prepare the way and to hold me when I get there.
Fourth, O.T. believers experienced the Spirit of God as their Counselor or Teacher. In Nehemiah 9, Ezra gives thanks to God for all his past benefits to Israel and says in verse 20, "Thou gavest thy good Spirit to instruct them and didst not withhold thy manna from their mouth." Probably the Spirit was their instructor in two senses. It was by God's Spirit that the prophets spoke to the people God's word (Neh. 9:30) and it was by the Spirit that the people were enabled to grasp and apply the Word. Today the Spirit still instructs us by the Word of Scripture and we ought to pray earnestly for an outpouring of God's enlightening Spirit so that the Scriptures really live for us and become intensely personal.
Fifth, the O.T. saints believed that craftsmanship and artistic ability in the service of God was a gift of the Holy Spirit. God not only designed how he wanted his tabernacle built; he also equipped the craftsmen to do it. Exodus 31:1-5 says, "The Lord said to Moses, 'See, I have called by name Bezalel … and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting and in carving wood, for work in every craft."' In one sense all craftsmanship and artistic ability is a gift of God just like our breath is. But the text says that God called Bezalel by name and filled him with his Spirit. And I think there was and is today a special touch or filling of the Holy Spirit that elevates the work of an artist or a musician or a craftsman from mere technical skill to divinely empowered ministry that exalts God and builds faith.
Sixth, O.T. believers experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit as a power to be bold in denouncing evil and declaring righteousness. Micah 3:8 says, "As for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin." It doesn't lie within man's own power to risk his life and stand up for the truth of God and denounce sin. The Spirit gives that courage. Luke 1:15 says that John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from his mother's womb—and he got his head chopped off for denouncing Herod's unlawful marriage. Surely we have need today of men and women filled by the Spirit to expose and denounce evils in our society that are hardly blinked at any more: the exploitation of women's bodies and debasement in advertising, the unconscionable destruction of human life through abortion on demand, the maneuvers of our own country to destabilize other governments, the gross waste and gluttony of American life, the cavalier attitude to divorce and remarriage which God hates, and the multi-million dollar promotion of alcohol and cigarettes as anything less than family-destroyers and body-killers. When people are filed with the Holy Spirit they do not blink at evil.
Seventh, the saints of old experienced victory over fear by the presence of the Spirit. When God wanted to encourage the people to rebuild the temple after the exile he said, "Work, for I am with you … My Spirit abides among you. Fear not" (Haggai 2:5). Just think, if Jews returning from God's judgment in Babylonian exile can take heart that God's Spirit will protect them, how much more fearless should we be who have the overwhelming assurance of God's love and power in Jesus' death and resurrection! Old Testament saints knew then and Christians know today that victory over all threats and obstacles belongs to God. Zechariah 4:6 says, "Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts."
Eighth, some O.T. believers were enabled by the Spirit to do extraordinary feats of power to help God's people. For example, in the life of Samson we read, "The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him and he tore the lion asunder as one tears a kid" (Judges 14:6). Or: "The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him and the ropes which were on his arms became as flax" (15:14). It wasn't a common manifestation of the Spirit, but it was real then and it is today. Every now and then in extraordinary circumstances of need the Spirit enables ordinary Christians to perform amazing feats of rescue far beyond their ordinary capacity—like lifting a car off of a pinned husband or escaping from a raging rapist.
Ninth, the Spirit enabled some O.T. believers to interpret God's revelation in dreams. After Daniel interpreted Pharaoh's dream about the coming famine, Pharaoh says, "Can we find such a man as this in whom is the Spirit of God?" On the day of Pentecost Peter said that in these last days "your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams" (Acts 2:17). If these latter days are to be days of dreams and visions from the Holy Spirit we had better pray earnestly for gifted Daniels to arise among us who can discern truth and error in such claims.
Finally, the Holy Spirit gave some in the O.T. a gift of prophecy. For example, when Moses gathered with the seventy elders of Israel at the tabernacle it says in Numbers 11:25, "The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him and took some of the Spirit that was upon him and put it upon the seventy elders; and when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did so no more." Evidently, God only gave a brief taste of prophetic powers to the seventy elders. It seemed to point to something more that might come in the future. Four verses later Moses says, "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them" (v. 29). Which again points forward to the last days inaugurated at Pentecost. Peter says, "In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy." What is this gift of prophecy? Where is it being manifested in the church today? Or is it? At least part of the answer to that is found in the teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12-14, which we will soon begin to study in an evening series.
This morning let me close simply by returning to the Aswan High Dam for a moment. Even before the dam was completed and the reservoir was officially unleashed on the day of Pentecost, the O.T. saints downstream enjoyed stupendous benefits from the river of God's Spirit. We do well to read about these things, and ask ourselves the simple question: if they experienced so much of God's Spirit which was but a trickle of the reservoir, how much more should we enjoy under the dozen turbines of Pentecost?
Thursday, February 09, 2006
The Megachurches Today 2005 survey is the most thoroughly researched study of the Protestant megachurch movement in the United States. Since June 2005, more than 1,800 churches were contacted by e-mail, phone and mail, with complete data for more than 400 qualifying congregations received, tabulated and analyzed.
According to Warren Bird, Leadership Network’s Director of Research, “Based on the results of this survey, we are able to conclude that there are at least 1,210 Protestant churches in the United States today with average weekly attendance of over 2,000. That is nearly double the number of megachurches that existed five years ago.”
While tremendously significant as a cultural study and as a “how to” guide for large churches, the survey also is instructive for churches that are anything but “mega.” Scott Thumma, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Hartford Seminary and primary architect of the survey, said, “I am absolutely convinced that megachurches have blossomed, at least in part, because they have responded creatively to the new needs and interests of people in a new cultural reality. There is much to learn from megachurches—and it isn’t all about being big.”
As Dave Travis, Executive Vice President of Leadership Network, also noted, “Not a week passes without megachurches figuring prominently in one or more national news stories. During 2005 alone, four megachurch pastors had books on The New York Times bestseller lists. And megachurch pastors always dominate the lists of the most influential religious leaders in the country. The Megachurches Today 2005 survey provides the perspective that to date has been missing from most reporting on this movement.”
The wide-ranging survey includes data on the many attributes that together define the nature and impact of megachurches in our society. Collectively, the results debunk 11 of the most common beliefs about megachurches, namely:
MYTH #1: All megachurches are alike. REALITY: They differ in growth rates, size and emphasis.
MYTH #2: All megachurches are equally good at being big. REALITY: Some clearly understand how to function as a large institution, but others flounder.
MYTH #3: There is an over-emphasis on money in the megachurches. REALITY: The data disputes this.
MYTH #4: Megachurches exist for spectator worship and are not serious about Christianity. REALITY: Megachurches generally have high spiritual expectations and serious orthodox beliefs.
MYTH #5: Megachurches are not deeply involved in social ministry. REALITY: Considerable ministry is taking place at and through these churches.
MYTH #6: All megachurches are pawns of or powerbrokers to George Bush and the Republican Party. REALITY: The vast majority of megachurches are not politically active.
MYTH #7: All megachurches have huge sanctuaries and enormous campuses. REALITY: Megachurches make widespread use of multiple worship services over several days, multiple venues, and even multiple campuses.
MYTH #8: All megachurches are nondenominational. REALITY: The vast majority belong to some denomination.
MYTH #9: All megachurches are homogeneous congregations with little diversity. REALITY: A large and growing number are multi-ethnic and intentionally so.
MYTH #10: Megachurches grow primarily because of great programming. REALITY: Megachurches grow because excited attendees tell their friends.
MYTH #11: The megachurch phenomenon is on the decline. REALITY: The data suggests that many more megachurches are on the way.
In terms of affiliation, the greatest number of megachurches are nondenominational (34 percent), Southern Baptist (16 percent) or Baptist, unspecified (10 percent). The remainder are scattered among Assemblies of God, United Methodist, Calvary Chapel, “Christian,” and other Protestant denominations.
The regions with the greatest concentrations of churches are south Atlantic, Pacific and western Central. Every region of the United States has some megachurches. The phenomenon is spreading outside the Sunbelt states.
Downloadable copies of the complete Megachurches 2005 Today survey (in both html and PDF versions) are available at both organizations’ web sites: www.leadnet.org and http://hirr.hartsem.edu. A 15-minute podcast discussion of key survey findings is archived on both sites. For more information or to schedule media interviews of the principals behind the Megachurches Today 2005 study, contact:
- Dave Travis, Leadership Network, email@example.com or 770.972.8792
- Scott Thumma, Hartford Seminary, firstname.lastname@example.org or 860.509.9571
- Warren Bird, Leadership Network, email@example.com or 845.368.4379
February 8, 2006
What we saw this past week in the Islamic demonstrations over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad was another vivid depiction of the difference between Muhammad and Christ, and what it means to follow each. Not all Muslims approve the violence. But a deep lesson remains: The work of Muhammad is based on being honored and the work of Christ is based on being insulted. This produces two very different reactions to mockery.
If Christ had not been insulted, there would be no salvation. This was his saving work: to be insulted and die to rescue sinners from the wrath of God. Already in the Psalms the path of mockery was promised: “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads” (Psalm 22:7). “He was despised and rejected by men . . . as one from whom men hide their faces . . . and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).
When it actually happened it was worse than expected. “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head. . . . And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him” (Matthew 27:28-30). His response to all this was patient endurance. This was the work he came to do. “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
This was not true of Muhammad. And Muslims do not believe it is true of Jesus. Most Muslims have been taught that Jesus was not crucified. One Sunni Muslim writes, “Muslims believe that Allah saved the Messiah from the ignominy of crucifixion.”1 Another adds, “We honor [Jesus] more than you [Christians] do. . . . We refuse to believe that God would permit him to suffer death on the cross.”2 An essential Muslim impulse is to avoid the “ignominy” of the cross.
That’s the most basic difference between Christ and Muhammad and between a Muslim and a follower of Christ. For Christ, enduring the mockery of the cross was the essence of his mission. And for a true follower of Christ enduring suffering patiently for the glory of Christ is the essence of obedience. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). During his life on earth Jesus was called a bastard (John 8:41), a drunkard (Matthew 11:19), a blasphemer (Matthew 26:65), a devil (Matthew 10:25); and he promised his followers the same: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:25).
The caricature and mockery of Christ has continued to this day. Martin Scorsese portrayed Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ as wracked with doubt and beset with sexual lust. Andres Serrano was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to portray Jesus on a cross sunk in a bottle of urine. The Da Vinci Code portrays Jesus as a mere mortal who married and fathered children.
How should his followers respond? On the one hand, we are grieved and angered. On the other hand, we identify with Christ, and embrace his suffering, and rejoice in our afflictions, and say with the apostle Paul that vengeance belongs to the Lord, let us love our enemies and win them with the gospel. If Christ did his work by being insulted, we must do ours likewise.
When Muhammad was portrayed in twelve cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the uproar across the Muslim world was intense and sometimes violent. Flags were burned, embassies were torched, and at least one Christian church was stoned. The cartoonists went into hiding in fear for their lives, like Salman Rushdie before them. What does this mean?
It means that a religion with no insulted Savior will not endure insults to win the scoffers. It means that this religion is destined to bear the impossible load of upholding the honor of one who did not die and rise again to make that possible. It means that Jesus Christ is still the only hope of peace with God and peace with man. And it means that his followers must be willing to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
2 Quoted from The Muslim World in J. Dudley Woodberry, editor, Muslims and Christians on the Emmaus Road (Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1989), p. 164.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
I just listened to the first couple sermons* on my computer. They reminded me a lot of a letter St. Augustine wrote called "The Spirit and the Letter." It is about how God's written Law makes us recognize our sin and causes us to despair of our own efforts to be righteous. He goes on though to say that when God's grace and the Holy Spirit transforms us, then the Law is written in our hearts (coming to us from inside by the "spirit" instead of from outside by the "letter"). So we end up desiring to fulfill the Law. He is also interpreting Romans like Piper. Here are some good quotes: "The law [...] contributes nothing to God's saving act: through it he does but show man his weakness, that by faith he may take refuge in the divine mercy and be healed." "[humans are] justified, then, not by the law, not by their own will, but 'freely by his grace': not that the justification is without our will, but the weakness of our will is discovered by the law, so that grace may restore the will and the restored will may fulfill the law, established neither under the law nor in need of law." "Through grace he is justified 'freely,' that is, by no preceding merits of his own works-- 'otherwise grace is no more grace' (Romans 11:6): for it is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may have power to do them, not because we have fulfilled the law, but in order that we may be able to fulfill it." "He commands [in the form of laws], in order that we may take refuge with him when in ourselves we fail." "The law was given that grace might be sought; grace was given that the law might be fulfilled. For the non-fulfillment of the law was not through its own fault, but the fault of the 'mind of the flesh'--a fault which the law must exhibit, and grace must heal." Ok, I got a little carried away with the quotes, but there are just so many good ones. Have a good day. Laurel* Sermons
- Mouths Stopped and All the World Accountable to God, Part One
- The Demonstration of God's Righteousness - Part One, A
- The Demonstration of God's Righteousness - Part One, B
- God's Pursuit of Racial Diversity at Infinite Cost, Part One
- God's Pursuit of Racial Diversity at Infinite Cost, Part Two
- The Demonstration of God's Righteousness - Part Two, A
- The Demonstration of God's Righteousness - Part Two, B