Friday, March 31, 2006

one last thing...

Ray Pritchard has posted a follow-up to his post entitled "Resignation Fever," which I linked to a few days ago. You can read "Resignation Fever Revisited" by clicking here.
Dear friends and readers of post-methodist,

I will be out of blogging range from Saturday, April 1 - Saturday, April 8.

I'll see you when I blog back on, either the following Sunday or Monday.

Have a blessed week!

Share Jesus with someone this week.

living as a wartime Christian

I'm currently reading John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life and it is really kicking me in the seat of the pants. One of the things that really got me rocked yesterday was his description of how Christians live as if we're in times of peace instead of times of war. He describes how the United States of America transitioned and mobilized when we got involved in World War II. He notes that people who really have a cause they believe in are willing to give up even their own lives for sake of the cause. Here's a little piece for you:

Sometimes I use the phrase “wartime lifestyle” or “wartime mind-set.” The phrase is helpful—but also lopsided. For me it is mainly helpful. It tells me that there is a war going on in the world between Christ and Satan, truth and falsehood, belief and unbelief. It tells me that there are weapons to be funded and used, but that these weapons are not swords or guns or bombs but the Gospel and prayer and self-sacrificing love (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). And it tells me that the stakes of this conflict are higher than any other war in history; they are eternal and infinite: heaven or hell, eternal joy or eternal torment (Matthew 25:46).

I need to hear this message again and again, because I drift into a peacetime mind-set as certainly as rain falls down and flames go up. I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth “home.” Before you know it, I am calling luxuries “needs” and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached peoples drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mindset that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set. (pp.111-112)

I would recommend this book to you. The cool thing is that John Piper makes his books availabe free online. Go here to find this book and more of his stuff.

Jesus, I don't want to waste my life. Fill me with a renewed passion for you. Help me to make much of you in every place I go, in everything I do, for your glory.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

kids dancing to the sounds of Satan

This morning I took my kids to the park for the first time this year. Its beautiful today in Pontiac, Illinois. While I was pushing my 2.5 year-old son on a swing, I was watching an interesting sight under a pavilion nearby. A young teenage girl and her boyfriend were taking care of 5 little kids (3 probably between 5-8, and 2 between 2-4). They had brought a boom box and were all dancing under the pavilion. It was cute. But then I noticed that the music that was coming out of the boom box was really obscene. The musicians (I think it was Insane Clown Posse) were dropping the F-bomb and other colorful words. And these little kids were dancing around as if they were listening to Barney!

I prayed that this highschool girl and her boy friend would be saved by Jesus and thus the little kids would be spared. I was praying and trying to figure out whether I should go over and talk to them about Jesus. I didn't. I wish I had. I wish I shared Jesus more. Jesus died for these beautiful kids. I wish I could do/had done more than pray.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

kill the Christian! - all the same God?

My friend, Bandlady, has been blogging about the Afghan Christian who was recently tried for converting from Islam. She gives a link to the BBC News article which shares that there are many Afghans who are protesting that this man's case was dismissed for insufficient evidence, and are demanding that he be executed for his conversion.

There's a part of the BBC News article where people share comments about whether religious converts should be punished. One comment caught my eye because it represents a view that I've heard many times since 9-11:

The saddest thing is that Christian, Moslem or Jew, they all worship the same GOD.If that God exists he or she must be like the parent of tearaway teens, hoping that we will all grow up but with the advantage of Divine patience. It must make him weep to see the terrible harm that is done in "His" name.

This is a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of all the above named religions. Dr. John Piper comments on this "tolerant" view that "all religions worship the same God" in his book Don't Waste Your Life:

Jesus is the litmus test of reality for all persons and all religions. He said it clearly: “The one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). People and religions who reject Christ reject God. Do other religions know the true God? Here is the test: Do they reject Jesus as the only Savior for sinners who was crucified and raised by God from the dead? If they do, they do not know God in a saving way.

That is what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Or when he said, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). Or when he said to the Pharisees, “If God were your Father, you would love me” (John 8:42).

It’s what the apostle John meant when he said, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). Or when he said, “Everyone who . . . does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God” (2 John 9).

There is no point in romanticizing other religions that reject the deity and saving work of Christ. They do not know God. And those who follow them tragically waste their lives. (p.39)


If nothing else, perhaps this will cause all to see that all gods are not the same god, and eventually that the only hope for the world is the One and Only God-Savior Jesus the Christ.

Monday, March 27, 2006

re: Resignation Fever

I just read a very encouraging blog post by Dr. Ray Pritchard, former pastor of Calvary Memorial Church. The post was called "Resignation Fever." It deals with the burdens that today's pastors and churches are experiencing and how many pastors are fleeing the ministry. Others are asking, "Why on earth would anyone want to go into this?" Click here to read more.

whatever God wants

This is the time of year when United Methodist pastors hear the phone ring and wonder if its a District Superintendent telling them that the Bishop has reappointed them to a different church/churches. I've been an Associate Pastor at my current church for four years, which could mean that I'm ripe for a move. I could stay another three or four where I'm at. Its doubtful I'd stay longer than that.

In the past I've had a clear-cut idea of what kind of church situation I would want to be in. There have been a few times when I thought that I was going to be reappointed to a certain situation, and it didn't happen. Whenever I have wanted a specific appointment, later I've been very grateful to God and the Cabinet that I didn't receive it.

Since all this appointment stuff is in the air right now, it comes out in conversations with family, church members, friends, and other clergy. Last night, someone asked me, "Jason, what do you want to see happen?" I was surprised by my answer. I said, "All I really want is whatever God wants."

This is a good step for me. In the past, I thought I knew what I wanted or needed. By God's grace, he has spared me numerous times from receiving what I thought I wanted or needed. Now, I admit, I really don't want anything but whatever he wants. I'm so relieved that its exactly what I'll receive as well.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

best-selling Bibles

I found a great website yesterday, http://cbaonline.org. Its the website for the Christian Booksellers Association. It gives lists of the best-selling books, Bibles, videos, music, etc. I've been looking for a site that keeps a list of which Bible translations sell the best for couple of years, and I've finally found it! Here's the list given for April 2006. (April's list is based on booksales in the US and Canada during February.)

1 NIV - New International Version
2 NKJV - New King James Version
3 KJV- King James Version
4 NLT - New Living Translation
5 HCSB - Holman Christian Standard Bible
6 Reina Valera 1960 (Spanish)
7 The Message
8 NASB - New American Standard Bible update
9 ESV - English Standard Version
10 NIrV - New International Readers Version

I was surprised to notice that the version most-often endorsed by mainline denominations and seminaries, the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version), isn't on the list. I've used the NRSV for the past 5 or 6 years, but have lamented the fact that its not marketed to the public very well. I'm currently using the NKJV.

Here are some other interesting lists.

Top 5 best-selling "Christian fiction" books (April 2006)
1 The Witness - Dee Henderson, Tyndale, p
2 Even Now - Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan, p
3 The Quilter's Daughter - Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour, p
4 Redeeming Love - Francine Rivers, Multnomah, p
5 Showdown - Ted Dekker, WestBow

Top 5 best-selling "Christian living" books (April 2006)
1 The Five Love Languages - Gary Chapman, Northfield (Moody), p
2 Captivating - John & Stasi Eldredge, Nelson Books (Nelson), c
3 The Purpose Driven Life - Rick Warren, Zondervan, c
4 The Purpose Driven Life: Keepsake Edition - Rick Warren, Zondervan, l
5 Wild at Heart - John Eldredge, Nelson Books (Nelson), p

Top 5 best-selling "Church and ministry" books (April 2006)
1 Standard Lesson Commentary KJV 2005-2006 - Standard, p
2 The Purpose Driven Church - Rick Warren, Zondervan, c
3 Revolution - George Barna, Tyndale, c
4 Breakout Churches - Thom Rainer, Zondervan, c
5 The Bible in 90 Days Participant's Guide

Friday, March 24, 2006

praise God for Pentecostals

Many people are shocked to find out that the Pentecostal movement is only 100 years old. The year 2006 marks its 100th anniversary. The latest issue of Christianity Today focuses largely on this topic. Here's an amazing quote:

With more than 580 million adherents (growing by 19 million per year and 54,000 per day), the Pentecostal/charismatic movement has become, in just 100 years, the fastest growing and most globally diverse expression of worldwide Christianity. At the current rate of growth, some researchers predict there will be 1 billion Pentecostals by 2025, most located in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. (p.30)

While Pentecostalism often receives publicity for its extremes and moral lapses, it is arguably the largest wave of evangelistic fervor ever to encompass the world.

To read the entire cover story, "Pentecostalism: The Sequel" in Christianity Today, click here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

waiting on God

I lead a Disciple II Bible study class on Wednesday nights. Last night, we looked at the first five books of Acts. One of the topics that came up was that Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had been endued with the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, when the Spirit came, they didn't have to question whether or not they were doing the right thing. Things just came together. God just fell on them and they were ready. We were also discussing how different this is from most of our Christian lives and church life. Usually, we make goals and strategies and then we pray and ask God to please grant us what we are asking for on His behalf.

After class, a Scripture and some thoughts jumped into my head (maybe the Holy Spirit speaking?). I felt inclined to blog about it. The Scripture was Psalm 27:13-14

13) I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.
14) Wait for the LORD;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the LORD!


Here's what I notice in this Scripture:

1) Waiting on God takes FAITH. (vs.13)

Unless we believe that God will eventually work all things together for our good and for the greater common good, we're not waiting on God, we're waiting for destruction or chaos. Waiting on God means waiting, knowing that God will intervene, will lead, will bring clarity, will bring peace, etc.

2) Waiting on God takes COURAGE. (vs.14a)

When we're waiting on God, we're not taking things into our own hands. When Abraham impregnated Hagar, he and Sarah were taking things into their own hands. They didn't have the courage to keep waiting. It can be scary to wait on God instead of running ahead and trying to fix things ourselves.

3) Waiting on God STRENGTHENS OUR HEARTS. (vs.14b)

This is how our character is stretched and fortified during the season of waiting. Isaiah 40:31 says, Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength. They shall mount up on wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint. We often start out the Christian experience by soaring. Later, we find that we're not quite as "high" as we were in the beginning, so we're running not flying. Even further along the journey, we come to the point where we're just walking. As we wait, we're tempted to stop moving forward in faith and to try to take control again. But those who keep walking, keep waiting, become stronger and stronger, each day becoming more like Christ.

Chuck Swindoll once preached a great message called, "Growing Through Waiting." I remember one line from the sermon: "Waiting is the norm in the Christian life, not the exception." What are you waiting on God for in your life? Keep waiting, keep walking, feel your heart and your character growing stronger by the mile.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

fewer younger pastors

I just got the March/April edition of Circuit Rider magazine. This issue is addressing the issue of younger and emerging leaders. Lovett H. Weems, seminary professor and director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary is this issue's guest editor. On page 6, he writes:

There has been a dramatic drop in the number and percentage of United Methodist elders under the age of 35 in the last twenty years. The number of elders under 35 declined from 3,219 in 1985 to 850 in 2005. Young elders as a percentage of all elders dropped from 15.05 percent in 1985 to only 4.69 percent in 2005. For example, the annual conference with the highest percentage of young elders today has 10 percent, still 5 percent below where the denomination was just twenty years ago.


I don't find this news discouraging myself. For some reason, I find it exhilirating to think of the shifts in ministry method that lie ahead. We'll be relying on empowered and equipped laity, just like our forefathers did. It will require bold and prayerful leadership. And it will force us to remain attentive to the Holy Spirit for guidance. What a ride we have ahead of us! Saddle up your pony!

(Explanatory note: An elder in the United Methodist Church is a fully ordained pastor who is authorized to preach, baptize, serve communion, and order the life of the church.)

John Wesley's fear

"I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out." –John Wesley

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

megamyths about megachurches

My older brother, Jon, was in town this last weekend. He was sharing with me that he had been listening to Moody Radio and had heard an interesting discussion about myths concerning megachurches. We googled around and found a good article that linked us to the information we were looking for.

The Leadership Network and Hartford Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religion Research have conducted a large scale study about the phenomenon of megachurches. A generic definition of a megachurch is a local congregation that has more than 2000 people in attendance on a weekly basis.

One interesting set of statistics posted at the Hartford website showed the following breakdown of megachurches and their denominational affiliations:

Nondenominational 34%
Southern Baptist 16%
Baptist, unspecified 10%
Assemblies of God 6%
United Methodist 5%
Calvary Chapel 4.4%
Christian 4.2%
Another helpful thing that the study published addressed common myths about megachurches. It gave factual responses to the myths as well.

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.
The most surprising finding for me is that 5% of megachurches are United Methodist, and that most have denominational affiliations.

The best resource I've seen for information about megachurches can be found at Hartford's website. Click here to visit it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

new evidence for biblical creationism

My cousin, Aaron Woolever, has posted a blog telling about how physicists have announced a new theory about the origens of the Universe. Its called "Inflation Theory." He notes the similarities between their theory and the biblical account:

Is there really much difference in saying, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," or "the universe…growing from the size of a marble to a volume larger than all of observable space in less than a trillion-trillionth of a second"?


To read more about this, click here.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

the unforgivable sin

Today I preached on Mark 3:20-35, the text that deals with "the blaspemy of the Holy Spirit," or the unforgivable sin. I've always been curious about what that meant and wanted to get a firm and simple understanding of it. What I came up with is that the unforgivable sin is "the continual rejection of all God's efforts to save you," or "the refusal to be saved."

I derived this definition partly from the context in Mark 3. The scribes from Jerusalem are looking at all of the people who Jesus has saved and delivered from demons and diseases by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus who saves and delivers and regenerates us when we believe in Jesus. They saw the evidence of the power. They could have responded in faith and been saved from their sins and joined the Family of the Forgiven. Instead, they responded with disgust and rejection. Jesus warned them that if they continued in that direction, they would never find and experience God's forgiveness.

The other source I found helpful was Jesus' teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit in John 14-17. Jesus says in 15:26 that the Holy Spirit will testify to people about him, and in John 16:8-11 that the Holy Spirit will convict people of their sin, Christ's righeousness, and the coming judgment. To respond to the Holy Spirit's conviction with faith and repentance results in salvation, to reject it is to reject the only source of salvation for the human race.

I believe that the opportunity to repent is offered us until the day our fate is sealed by death. Then our salvation or our seperation takes us into one of two eternal places. Never give up praying for those who aren't saved. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and use you in his ongoing efforts to save people.

Lenten Devo has moved posting locations

I started to feel that this post-methodist blog was getting crowded, so I'm posting the Daily Lenten Devo at www.jasonwoolever.blogspot.com (It can also be found in the "Links" section of my sidebar, labeled "Lenten Devotional"). I hope this doesn't cause confusion. I'll keep posting my regular blogs here at www.post-methodist.blogspot.com.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Fiji Methodists fight immorality

Christ is converting the Fiji Islands through the work of Fiji Methodists and faith-healer, Benny Hinn. Read more by clicking here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

living by the Word

Because of the way my brain is wired (I have OCD), I have always been able to memorize Scripture rather easily. I'm realizing that what I need to do, even more than memorize, is live by the Scriptures that I already have memorized.

Today, I'm thinking especially about Matthew 6:34, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for today is its own trouble."

If I could just do this one thing well, how much better would my quality of life me!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

new study bible from my hero

This past Tuesday, March 14, a new study Bible was released for sale. Its "The Word for Today Bible." I received it as a late Christmas gift from my in-laws. Its the collected Bible teachings of Chuck Smith, the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement which begain in Costa Mesa California in the late 60's/early 70's. His story is awesome. He was a failure in ministry for 15 years. He had tried every church growth program on the market and was so discouraged that he considered leaving the ministry for good. His churches were so unsuccessful that he eventually had to become a construction worker to afford to remain a pastor. He stumbled onto a method of preaching that just preached verse by verse through books of the Bible. His church, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, was one of the first megachurches. He's close to 80 now and still going strong. Although his church doesn't have official membership, over 25,000 people worship there. He's hype-free and addicted to God's word. He's one of my true heroes in the ministry. I read his story often when I get discouraged. One of the key verses of his life is Zechariah 4:6, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD."

Check out the Calvary Chapel movement at www.calvarychapel.com.
If you are looking for a new study Bible, I highly recommend this one. Its available in NKJV only.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

a life of sacrifice and service

Today I had lunch with a guy about my age (which is 30). He's at the beginning the long and somewhat grueling process of becoming an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church. I just finished the process myself, being ordained this past June. This was after 7 years filled with seminary, numerous interviews, psychological evaluations, theological papers, and learning how to use inclusive language in writing and preaching.

My friend actively participates in one of the larger churches in the conference (bureacratic region) that is growing and doing rather well, numerically speaking. We were talking about what it means to be a United Methodist pastor. We discussed the struggles we all have with the itineracy and the bureacracy. I say "all" because I believe that those at the top of the system struggle with it just as much as those at the bottom and in the middle.

In the past, I have tried to encourage people to enter the life of full-time ministry in the UMC because it is a great thing to be called by God. Today was the first time that I knew that I'm at a point in my life where I can no longer use positive sales talk to try to persuade people to become pastors in our system.

I believe that I realize now that much of the "success" that many people dream about having in ministry or in business is something that is dangerous to desire in the ministry of the UMC. Why? Because where I live and do ministry is not at all up to me. It's determined by God alone.

In our church, 30-45 members die each year. We see people come to Christ, but not enough to create a net gain in attendance or membership. If a person is going to pastor in the UMC, they have to be able to accept the fact that they may never be appointed to a church that is experiencing net gain in attendance and membership. This doesn't mean that we can't be used by God. We definitely can. It means that we enter in with NO promises of "good appointments," where the church we serve will be booming with growth. (There's actually no "good appointments" or "bad appointments"... only "God appointments" anyway.)

All this said, I believe that we can say with confidence that God has called us to a meaningful life of sacrifice and service. This seems to be the life that Jesus described when he said, "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others, and to give his life a ransom for many."

The idea of a "prosperous ministry" may be more of a worldly ideal than a biblical ideal. Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it. And those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me the Father will honor."

If you're looking for a life of being successful and prosperous in a wordly sense, the life of full-time ministry is not for you. If you are looking for a life of meaningful service and sacrifice, in the path and example of Jesus, may the power of Christ be with you as you consider a call to full-time ministry.

"And now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine..." (Eph.3:20)

to help your sympathy toward the fallen...

A Methodist blogger named Jay Vorhees wrote an article about a beautiful encounter that he had with Cardinal Law when they were both much younger. Long before the Boston sex scandals, Law was just a regular Christian guy who loved Jesus and Christians. This story was recently posted on the Wesley Daily. Read it by clicking here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

a house divided

It's Monday morning. I've been studying my sermon text for next week, Mark 3:20-36. When the teachers of the Law accused Jesus of using Satan's power to cast demons out of people, he responded by saying, "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand" (24, 25).

Abraham Lincoln picked up on this truth and used it in his "House Divided Speech":
"'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South."

Without trying to sound negative, this made me think about many United Methodist local churches and our denomination as a whole. If it's true that a divided house cannot stand, then we should expect local congregations that are divided over the issue of whether to focus on mission or maintanence to fall. They would be contradicting Christ if they "grew" or "succeeded."

In the same sense, the denomination which is divided among evangelicals and liberals will either fall or be an exception to what Christ says is true.

Or, the situation could be remedied the way that Lincoln suggested the divided union would be remedied- one side could lose. Churches and denominations would then cease to be divided and would not fall.

May the best team win.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Wesley Daily

This week a friend of mine, Shane Raynor, the creator and sustainer of the Wesley Blog, came out with a new daily publication called Wesley Daily, which daily offers blog postings by various Methodist bloggers. He's featured a couple of mine this week. He is doing great web ministry. Praise God for Shane's ministry and vision. He's a pioneer.

dogs playing poker

John at Locusts & Honey has done brief piece about the guy who painted the classic pictures of dogs playing poker and other stuff we don't normally think of dogs doing. It has some wonderful pix and history. Check it out here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

home churches- not a bad idea really

The Leadership Journal blog is talking about how many small groups from megachurches may be leaving the megachurch to form home churches. As that happens, instead of having 75% of their offerings go to maintaining buildings and paying staff, these house churches can give over 90% of their offerings to good works. I've thought about this myself, how at our church over 50% of our budget goes to paying staff! Gulp! I think house churches are cool, but I also need a job!

This is an important discussion. To read more, click here.

freedom through submission

Something I have continually struggled with in the United Methodist Church is the top-down system of church government. I don't necessarily think that top-down is bad, its just hard to work under sometimes. I often become very cynical when I receive another mailing about a program that our churches are all supposed to do in order to solve "the problem" of decline. It seems that every other month we get another one-size-fits-all solution.

I layed out the problem in the above paragraph because I have been felt convicted by the Holy Spirit lately about how my sarcasm and cynicism is itself "incompatible with Christian teaching." The particular scriptures that God has been using to convict me are I Peter 5:4-7 and Ephesians 6:5-8.

I Peter 5:4-7 says, "You who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you."

The context in I Peter is Peter addressing the elders of the church, having just described the role of shepherding. It tells me that if I remain humble, I remain in God's favor. If I become proud and rebellious, I not only oppose my elders, but God as well.

Ephesians 6:5-8 says, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free."

You can change the word "slaves" to whatever your job title is and "earthly masters" to whatever your boss's title is. The parts that really get me are the "singleness of heart," which means in sincerity, and the "not only while being watched and in order to please them."

Christ wants us to glorify him through humble, sincere, honest submission to our bosses. This may sound strange, but I feel that Jesus wants me (and maybe Christians in general) to do this. In following his will in this, we encounter his freedom from our negativism (which compounds unfavorable circumstances).

Thursday, March 09, 2006

pastor says nobody goes to hell - now nobody goes to his church

Christianity Today recently ran an article about a megachurch pastor named Carlton Pearson. He was associated with Oral Roberts University and pastored one of the biggest churches in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

He planted Higher Dimensions Church in 1981 and it grew to over 5000 people. Four years ago he started preaching that he believed that since Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be saved, and no one would go to hell.

When he started preaching this belief, commonly known as "universalism," people started leaving his church in droves. He eventually lost 90% of his flock. They had to move out of their church building and start meeting in a Episcopal Church during off hours. Pretty wild stuff!

To visit his church's website, click here .
To read the full Christianity Today article, click here.

Why do you think everybody left?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

he just had to share Christ with someone

Here's a great story about how my friend Mark Dooley couldn't stand it. He had to find something to do to share Christ's love with someone... anyone! It took him a couple of tries to get it done, but he finally did. Read his first person account by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

two cool woolevers


Here's a picture of my cousin Aaron Woolever, holding my nephew Sammy Woolever. Aaron maintains a bizarre (in a good way) website called woolever.com. My favorite thing about the woolever.com website is that every time you refresh the page, it brings up a different Jack Handy quote on the left hand side panel. You can also get a woolever.com email address if you want. By the way, Woolever is an English name that means "wool washer."

autistic basketball star

I came across a really touching video at Tim Sisk's blog. Check it out.

Click here.

Monday, March 06, 2006

selling jesus

I attended a very well-done training meeting last night with people from my church and many from other churches as well.

One of the things that was presented to us is that we need to understand that we are in the sales business. We have a product. Our product is Jesus. This teaching was largely based on a book written by Adam Hamilton, called Selling Swimsuits in the Arctic.

It gives "Seven Simple Keys to Growing Churches"
1. We must believe in our product.
2. We must believe that others need what we're selling.
3. We must understand the needs of those we're seeking to reach.
4. We must offer an excellent product or service.
5. We must embody the values and ideals of our product.
6. We must effectively market the product.
7. We must not give up in the face of adversity or rejection.

I read this book about a year ago, and my impression was, "Oh, Adam is trying to tell us how to be just like the unique person that God made him to be, who he effortlessly is, who we'll never be." Hamilton uses illustrations from his life before he was in the ministry, telling about how these principles made him a very successful shoe salesman.

I have read many business books in order to enhance my own understanding of how to be effective in the ministry. I've also read many books that are written by "successful" Christian leaders who have applied business principles to their churches to great effect.

I also know many pastors who are angry and bitter and worn-out because the churches they serve will not jump on the bandwagon and apply the latest set of business principles to their blessed church home.

I'm skeptical of goal-setting in a ministry setting. I have a friend who planted a church. Everytime I get his ministry update in the mail he tells about the goals that he and the church have set for future events. When we get the update, they almost always fall just a little short of their goals. So did God give them the goal? Did they not meet God's goal because they were disobedient? I don't believe that. The truth is that without the goal they set, they might not have even come close. But is that what God does? Does he continually give us goals that we'll never meet? If not, are we forced to say that these are definitely our goals for God and not his goals for us?

How do we even know that God wants church attendance in every church to increase? In seminary, I went to Turkey on a "Footsteps of Paul" tour. We went to Ephesus and the sites of the seven churches in Revelation, and other early church locations. Guess what? There were no churches there! There is a tiny second floor store front church in Ephesus with a little awning that says "First Protestant Church of Ephesus."

Were they unfaithful? No! They were bulldozed by the Muslims, and Turkey was converted in a few short days.

If I look at the trends, it appears that God is not working primarily through mainline churches today. It doesn't appear that we're the wave of the future either. We were the wave of the past. Does that mean we're bad? No. Does that mean that we were unfaithful? No. Does that mean that God doesn't love us as much? No. I think it means that God moves through wineskins that are particularly relevant to the culture. Institutions used to be IT. People aren't into big bureaucracy anymore.

I don't think we should give up serving God by making disciples of Jesus Christ. But I don't think we can always assume that what we wish God would want is what God wants. What if God wants to wean us off of our addiction to tangible results and ever-increasing numbers and show us that we really aren't that important?

I was reading Jesus' conversation with Peter at the end of the gospel of John. The third time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Peter replies,"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus then tells him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch our your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." And John adds in parenthesis, "He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God." And then Jesus said to him, "Follow me."

I see Jesus saying to Peter, "Following me doesn't mean that your life and ministry will get better and better every day. Actually, you'll have some good days, but it will end in a way you would never want it to." How's that for encouragement!

Apply that to us. What if God's glorified end to the mainlines is like Peter's? Are we still willing to follow him?

I'm thinking out loud. It helps me process my feelings. I'm definitely open to feedback. And I definitely do not have a problem with ministry colleagues who love using business principles. I'm just finding myself in tension with this approach myself.

What do you think?

Friday, March 03, 2006

burnout

I left the church after posting "sick woolevers" and when I pulled into my drive, the Big Doo was pulling up to my house. He had just read my blog saying my computer was down, and he was coming over to fix it. Friends, that is the beauty of the Body of Christ, that is Christian friendship. Thanks Big Doo. So, now I can keep blogging.

I read a book yesterday by a Quaker named Parker J. Palmer. For some reason I've been stumbling onto books written by Quakers lately. They seem to have a lot of deep thinking to share. The book I read yesterday was called Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation.

I have to say, this book really got me stirred up. He's talking about how we spend a good deal of our lives trying to figure out who we really are, what our true God-given birthright nature is. He describes how depression and burnout help us identify who we are not.

Here's a great quote about burnout. He writes,
"One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not posess- the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place." (p.49)
I realize how exactly true that is for me. I never get burnt out from leading Bible studies, or sermon preparation, or preaching, or having spiritual conversations with people, or writing, or being with people in their times of need. I feel that those things are in line with who God created me to be.

I get burnt out when I have to sit in bureaucratic meetings and discuss seemingly impossible situations that no one knows how to solve and which I'm not sure God even wants to be solved. I think I felt God telling me that I need to avoid putting myself in those situations. While there are people who strive in those settings, he didn't make me as one of them.

I don't want to burn out, but to burn bright for Christ.

sick woolevers

My 2-year-old son got pink eye this week. Our home computer is sick as well. Last night, I had a high fever. So I stayed home from work today.

When my fever broke, I slipped in to the church for a couple of minutes to update the Lenten Devotional through Sunday in case you are using it daily, and in case our computer at home doesn't get fixed.

God bless.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

methodist blogs weekly roundup

I've been blogging a little over a month. I found this cool service offered by John who gives a weekly summary of what Methodist bloggers have been blogging about this week.

To read this week's "Methodist Blogs Weekly Roundup," click here.