Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Excellence in Knowledge

There is a God given responsibility for all of us with an ounce of sense. We are required to invest in the development of our mind. Mark Noll, Harvard Professor, wrote several years back that "the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there isn't much of an evangelical mind." By this he means that there is an undercurrent within the church that is prejudiced against the intellect. Certainly, we in charismatic/pentecostal circles see the evidence of the subjective over the objective; the spiritual over the intellectual; and the preference to take things by faith rather than trust science. But God calls us to develp our minds. If we are to be excellent in knowledge then shouldn't there be some ways to insure our grwoth toward excellence. Here are some suggestions.

Find out why. Too many of us shrug our shoulders content to let some other guy tell us what to do. Even if that guy (or gal) is a spiritually lead pastor- there should be an innate hunger to understand better. Frankly, in my days in the past I sued to love to discuss (not argue) the whys about certain questions. People use to ask me about things much more than they do now. I think it is an intellectual laziness.

Read a minimum of one good book that stimulates your mind every 8 weeks. This may mean that you have to read secular books that come highly recommended; or Christian books outside your normal scope of reference. In my early years of ministry I read on psychology (a topic that I was largely ignorant of) every thursday to insure that I would grow in my knowledge of the subject.

Discuss what you are learning with others. This will stimulate them and forces you to have enough complete knowledge of the subject to explain it to another. Watch out for the tendency to show off that you are now an intellectual! Better to always be a student than to presume yoruself ready to teach prematurely.

Develop a steady routine of studying the Word. Nothing compares to the scripture. I have over 4000 titles in my library and the ancient text is the greatest and best stimulation to my mind (and soul!).

Take a class. It puts you in contact with fellow learners and people with whom you can share your insights (incase they bore your spouse!)

There is something powerful in having a ready answer for those questions stimulated by your lifestyle of faith. As we develop ourselves, we become more and more effective in making a forceful case for Christ in the lives of others. And winning the hearts of men often starts in the mind.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Assemblies of God

All You Need to Know About the Assemblies of God
A primer for Palin watchers and others.
Rich Tatum | posted (Christianity today)9/16/2008 02:14PM

"She is a longtime member of the Assemblies of God. That's all you need to know."

That's how political blogger Andrew Sullivan recently summarized Governor Sarah Palin's faith background.

But entertain the crazy thought that some people might want to know more. What would we learn from the media about the Assemblies of God?

It's "the evangelical experience on steroids," "where sitting is an option but clapping is not," where beliefs "stray a bit from the mainstream" and which "mainstream Christians don't understand." There's the usual report of tongues, faith-healing, and "end times" — threateningly caricaturized as "a violent upheaval that … will deliver Jesus Christ's second coming." Combine "holy laughter, divine dancing, silver tooth fillings turning into gold, [and] the regeneration of a large intestine," and you see why Palin's childhood faith has been "deemed irrelevant by the liberal intelligentsia because it is regarded as fundamentalist and … irrational."

Then again, news accounts of "rational faith" have been rather scarce.

About one in four Christian believers worldwide are Pentecostal or charismatic, and the percentage is increasing daily. The World Christian Database says 8.7 percent of the world's population is part of this "renewalist" group. The AG is one of the most prominent Pentecostal groups, it's only a part of the movement. An AG study from 2006 found 60 million adherents in more than 300,000 churches worldwide. About 2.8 million of these are in the U.S.

The renewalist movement in the U.S. is often divided into three historical "waves." The first wave began in 1901, resulting in the "classical" Pentecostal denominations, including the Assemblies of God. The second ("charismatic") wave began around 1960, and the third ("neocharismatic") wave around 1980. While there are doctrinal and practical differences between the various Pentecostal and charismatic believers, what is common to all is the conviction that the Holy Spirit is personally active, immanent, and works through believers by giving gifts (charisms) for ministry, evangelism, and holiness.

While some scholars have traced a thread of Pentecostal and charismatic expressions throughout church history, the modern renewal began with the "touch felt around the world" on January 1, 1901, when students of Charles Fox Parham were "baptized in the Spirit" and spoke in tongues after studying the Bible to prove or deny the validity of such an experience. The fledgling movement found its tipping point at the Azusa Street Revival, led by a former student of Parham's, William Joseph Seymour. This California revival, from 1906 to 1909, is widely considered the true genesis of Pentecostalism and has been called " America 's most successful spiritual export."

The first Pentecostal denomination to form (in 1907) was the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), led by Charles H. Mason. The body that became the AG formed in 1914.

What do they believe?

Today, the Assemblies of God is generally considered orthodox with beliefs common to many denominations — excepting mainstream cessationist groups. George Barna reports that among the 12 largest denominations, Assemblies of God adherents tend to have the highest "overall purity of … biblical perspectives." They are more likely to be born again, to be "absolutely committed" to faith, to hold a high view of Scripture, to believe in a literal heaven and hell, to believe that Jesus was sinless, to believe that God created the universe, are more likely to pray, and are more likely to share the gospel with unbelievers.

Assemblies of God adherents are evangelical, believing in the need for personal salvation and the call to evangelize. They have a high view of biblical authority and believe in the literal death and resurrection of Jesus. They are Arminian, believing that God-given free will is compatible with divine sovereignty. They believe that salvation is by grace and unmerited but is conditional on faith and on accepting the sacrifice and lordship of Jesus — and therefore, one can willfully fall from grace. They are thoroughly Trinitarian, rejecting the modalism as expressed in the Oneness or "Jesus' Name"-only Pentecostal movement (e.g., the United Pentecostal Church).

Their essential doctrines are expressed in creedal form in their "Sixteen Fundamental Truths," and expanded on in a variety of position papers available online. Their four core doctrines are a belief in salvation, divine healing, Jesus' imminent "second coming" (along with the rapture, tribulation, and the millennial reign of Christ), and that the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is a divine gift freely available to all believers.

This baptism is the core "distinctive doctrine" of the Assemblies of God, defined as a work of grace and an experience subsequent to and distinct from conversion (and not required for salvation), accompanied by the "initial physical evidence" of speaking in other tongues. This experience empowers believers for Christian witness, service, and holiness. Distinct from water-immersion baptism, Pentecostals see Spirit baptism as an immersion in the power, person, and experience of the Holy Spirit, and locate it biblically as promised in Joel 2:28-29, Mark 1:8, and John 16:5-16; made normative in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4-5; modeled in Acts 2:1-4; and universally extended as a gift to all believers in Acts 2:38-39.

Not just TV preachers

In addition to media-whipped anomalies such as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Benny Hinn (all former Assemblies of God ministers), other AG churchgoers have gained national attention, including singer-songwriter Sara Groves, former U.S. Representatives Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) and Linda Smith (R-Wash.), and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

And, of course, Sarah Palin.

But while Palin may well have been "a longtime member of the Assemblies of God," she has not regularly attended an AG church since 2002. And a lot can change in six years.

Rich Tatum is a freelance writer who attends an AG church and blogs at

See article in entirety

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Excellence: In Speech

What makes a believers speech excellent? Certainly, there is a need for Christians to honor God with their speech. That is, not just clean words (Read Eph 4) but words that reflect the heart of God. I don't think that there is a purpose in swearing from the pulpit, certainly there is a decorum that is demanded in public speech. But I have to be honest and tell you that from the time my boys were little we spoke very frankly about our bodies and bodily functions in what, for those little boys, was "bathroom talk". I always made sure that they understood that we were allowed to speak frankly in private. For some reason, christians feel free to say 'crap' but shrink from saying "Sh**". I am not really sure what the difference is- except that decorum demands that we avoid the use of them.

But surely our words must be more than clean. They must be reflective of the faith that resides in our hearts and the love that we have for our Father God. This is more than saying "Praise God" all the time. What seems most important is what we talk about with freinds and strangers. Are we moving people with our speech toward our God? Maybe we should demand some sense of kindness and gentleness in our words as well.

Finally, exaggeration and half truths have no place in our lives. We must be straight talkers and deal in truth. If we endeavor to honor God with our speaking truth, we have the assurance of the Spirit of Truth walking with us.

The Planet vs. the Poor

by chuck colson

To drill or not to drill may be the hottest issue in Congress this month and this fall’s political campaign. Drilling supporters argue it will lower gas prices. Opponents claim it poses too many environmental risks—and besides, they say, paying $4 per gallon for gas is good for us because it will force us to develop alternative energy sources.

So what’s the answer?

Christians need to weigh the arguments—and find a balanced approach. Of course, we care for the creation; we are stewards, as the Bible commands. But our highest priority should be looking out, not for the planet, but for people, and especially the poor.

Nobody feels the pain of high gas prices more than working-class and poor Americans. High gas prices are also driving higher food prices, which really pinch poor families. America’s environmentally correct elites may be able to afford $4 a gallon for gas and $4.50 per gallon for milk—the poor and working folks cannot.

Sure, we must conserve, and develop alternatives to oil. But in the meantime, the costly “lessons” the elites want to teach us are being borne on the backs of the poor, and are shaking the world’s economy. All the while we have ample oil reserves offshore and in Alaska which would enable us not to be held hostage by Middle East tyrants.

Why do radical environmentalists seem so indifferent to the poor? It is a matter of worldview. If you deify nature instead of God, if you believe humans are just another species of animal with no greater moral status than a kangaroo rat—well, you don’t have to worry much about the poor or marginalized. But if you believe God created humans in His image, and gave each one of us a unique and privileged place within His creation, then your concern for the poor far outweighs concerns for nature—especially speculative concerns like global warming.

If you are a Christian, you also see humans as producers and stewards, not as consumers and polluters. And while secular environmentalists fear that too much economic freedom will damage the Earth, the reality is the opposite: Countries with the greatest economic freedom eliminate pollution much more quickly than less free countries. That’s because economic freedom lifts people out of poverty, and once out of poverty, they begin taking better care of their surroundings.

Whether we drill need not be an either/or choice between people and the planet: In an excellent book titled Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, published by the Acton Institute, 25 Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic thinkers argue that sound environmental stewardship “must attend both to the demands of human well-being and to a divine call for human beings to exercise caring dominion over the earth.” But we are to be good stewards of the environment first and foremost because it is good for human flourishing—not as an end in itself. Human well-being and the integrity of creation, they write, “are not only compatible but also dynamically interdependent realities.”

Throughout Scripture, God repeatedly condemned His people, not for despoiling the pristine wilderness, but for forsaking the poor and needy. Is this not His same message to us today?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Excellence: In Faith

In 2 Cor 8.7 the Apostle to the Gentiles asks his Corinthian audience to excel in a number of things. The first in the list of areas that the dutiful follower of Jesus is supposed to excel in is faith. Of course, this is because everything in the Christian life is by faith. Faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God. It is what God responds to. We see this in the life of Jesus- he is rarely amazed or astounded by things- except faith, or the lack of faith in his disciples. He is amazed and encouraged when he finds it in the Centurion, and the Syrophonecian woman; and he is equally disturbed when the disciples cannot seem to find enough of their own to cast out demons, heal the sick , comprehend deep spiritual truths, or go and preach the gospel.

Faith is, of course, so important to God that we followers are known as "beleivers". We trust in the saving work of Jesus on the cross, we trust that the presence of Christ is with us, and we trust God to work out his plan in our lives for the amazing future that he promises to us. When faith is lacking or deficient, we are out of communication with God.

Promises come to us by faith- the scripture tells us that faithful adherence to the "faith' passed on to us (ie., those corporate teachings of the Apostles who walked literally with Jesus), is guarranteed to bring salvation to us. That faith is a collection of understandings formed out of the teachings of Scripture that create a faith world view. Real followers of the Lord must learn what he says about the various teachings. (One of the tragic circumstances that exists today is that we have 'born again' believers who are ignorant of what the teaching of the Word is on important subjects- an in the vacuum of that knowledge they live spiritually weak, duplicitous, even sinful lifestyles. This shames the King and his Cross.

The life of faith is not soley preoccupied with dogma and doctrine. It is optimistic in that it sees the "God quotient" in every equation. It demonstrates the existence of faith by refusing to limit its vision to the mundane circumstances or even the hostile climate that it exists in. The Christian ought to see the future positively. Not out of some form of weak inability to handle the true curcumstances, but out of an inner strength that refuses to see the glass half empty. Think for a moment about your outlook. do you approach life with a tragic and scarred psyche that is afraid to believe God for the best today? God says... excel in faith!

And, of course, the world view of the people of faith is defined by the God of their faith. That is why the closer we get to Jesus- the more infectious our faith. We can say to the lost "God has better than this for you"; and to the hurting "God will heal you"; and to the lonely " God will comfort you". What will make the church more effective? Better preaching? More programs? Slicker Media ads? No- What the world needs to see is exactly what they lack- an infectious faith in the living God.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Saving Our Daughters from the Hook up Culture

I am increasingly concerned about our college aged young people. On one hand they are increasingly more astute, savy, and mature with regard to many issues. Yet they may still be more likely to sleep in til 11 after a night of hard gaming. They are a mixed bag. Purposefully more mature in some areas and resistant to stepping into the responsibilities of adulthood as quickly as their parents. And they will live longer so they can put off child rearing and building a family and getting serious about living. What they aren't doing en masse is abstaining from adult sexuality. In fact the articles about the hook up culture are frightening for those of us who are serious about the teachings of Jesus on sexuality. This can be blamed partly on those services that are supposed to help them make those decisions. Dr. Miriam Grossman recentl wrote in an article of her expereince as a Campus physician.

She writes, " I was a campus physician for years, and know firsthand how students suffer from the toxic Sex in the City lifestyle on our campuses. College health and counseling services are packed with casualties of the anything-goes sexual mentality; many are girls who practiced “safer sex.” They did as they were told and used “protection,” but still paid a hefty price: genital warts and blisters, pre-cancerous conditions, worries about slipped condoms and HIV—to say nothing of chaotic, empty relationships and broken hearts.

These young women had been misled, and had a false sense of security. They were led to believe—not only by Hollywood, but by the nation’s leading sex ed organizations and popular health education sites like Columbia University’s—that they are just like men, that sex is easily separated from emotions and procreation, and that with “protection,” casual liaisons can be a natural, positive part of growing up.

That philosophy is a result of social activists of the last century: Alfred Kinsey, Hugh Hefner, Gloria Steinem—figures that Bristol’s generation study in history class. Even the HIV-era notion of “safer sex” was developed years before they were born. While you’d hardly know it from the advice these kids get from sex educators or Columbia’s Alice, the world has changed. In this century, we’re fighting a horde of bugs, and the bugs are winning.

Canonized by the sex ed industry and considered transparent truths, “safer sex” guidelines are out of date. In 2008, it’s not enough to communicate with “partners,” get tested for STI’s, and use condoms. These days, young people—especially girls—who wish to avoid sexually transmitted infections need a different plan.

If we are serious about protecting our daughters, we must spell out a clear, no-nonsense message: the ideal is to delay sexual activity, and eventually commit to someone who also waited. The closer she can get to that, the better. Then provide her with some critical facts she’s unlikely to hear elsewhere:

A young woman has unique biological sensitivities that increase her vulnerability to the consequences of sexual activity. For example, intimacy releases oxytocin, a primarily female hormone that fuels feelings of attachment and trust. This chemical turns red lights green. It alters brain chemistry, so she’s more likely to overlook a guy’s faults, and to take risks she otherwise wouldn’t. A girl surely doesn’t want her brain drenched with oxytocin when making critical decisions like: What do I think of him? How far do I want this to go? This might explain the recent unpublished data from Princeton University indicating that for 80 percent of female students on that campus, hook-ups were followed by regret.
A young cervix has a delicate area only one cell thick, placing teens at risk for HPV. This is the case even if she’s been vaccinated. With time, the cervix grows a thicker, tougher surface, making infection less likely. A guy’s genital system doesn’t have a vulnerable area like that.
Most guys who have an STI don’t know it, even after they’ve been tested. While it’s easiest to share viruses when warts or sores are present, transmission can also occur at other times, when everything looks OK. So a woman could get an incurable genital infection from someone who doesn’t know he has it. Condoms reduce the risk by only 60 to 70 percent.
Other activities, such as oral or anal sex, can also be hazardous. Having more than five oral sex “partners” has been associated with throat cancer. As for anal penetration, the Food and Drug Administration—the agency responsible for promoting and protecting the public health—puts it well: “Condoms provide some protection, but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous to practice.”
As millions of American parents send their daughters off to college this week, many have a silent prayer on their lips. For good reason: sexual behavior is a serious matter, and a single encounter can have life-long consequences, especially for a woman.

Listen up, Planned Parenthood, SIECUS, and Columbia University: That’s not sexist—it’s biology. And ignorance or denial of this fact only increases a girl’s vulnerability.

We need to remind girls that the characters on Grey’s Anatomy are not real. In real life, Meredith would have herpes or warts. In real life, she’d be paying a price for her choices. Young women must know that now more than ever, it’s wise to follow the lesson of hard science: be very, very careful about who you allow close to you."

hmmm- perhaps the wisdom of Scripture isn't that strange and foriegn to healthy sexuality. Maybe the Father really does know best ;-)